Infertility is a condition that affects approximately one out of everysix couples. An infertility diagnosis is given to a couple that has beenunsuccessful in efforts to conceive over the course of one full year. Whenthe cause of infertility exists within the female partner, it is referredto as female infertility. Female infertility factors contribute to approximately50% of all infertility cases, and female infertility alone accounts forapproximately one-third of all infertility cases.
What causes female infertility?
The most common causes of female infertility include problems with ovulation,damage to fallopian tubes or uterus, or problems with the cervix. Age cancontribute to infertility because as a woman ages, her fertility naturallytends to decrease.
Ovulation problems may be caused by one or more of the following:
- A hormone imbalance
- A tumor or cyst
- Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia
- Alcohol or drug use
- Thyroid gland problems
- Excess weight
- Intense exercise that causes a significantloss of body fat
- Extremely brief menstrual cycles
Damage to the fallopian tubes or uterus can be caused by one or more ofthe following:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- A previous infection
- Polyps in the uterus
- Endometriosis or fibroids
- Scar tissue or adhesions
- Chronic medical illness
- A previous ectopic (tubal) pregnancy
- A birth defect
- DES syndrome (The medication DES, given to womento prevent miscarriageor premature birth can result in fertility problems for their children.)
Abnormal cervical mucus can also cause infertility. Abnormal cervical mucuscan prevent the sperm from reaching the egg or make it more difficult forthe sperm to penetrate the egg.
How is female infertility diagnosed?
Potential female infertility is assessed as part of a thorough physicalexam. The exam will include a medical history regarding potential factorsthat could contribute to infertility.
Healthcare providers may use one or more of the following tests/exams toevaluate fertility:
- A urine or blood test to check for infectionsor a hormone problem, including thyroid function
- Pelvic exam and breast exam
- A sample of cervical mucus and tissue to determineif ovulation is occurring
- Laparoscope inserted into the abdomen to view the condition of organsand to look for blockage, adhesions or scar tissue.
- HSG, which is an x-ray used in conjunction with a colored liquid insertedinto the fallopian tubes making it easier for the technician to checkfor blockage.
- Hysteroscopy uses a tiny telescope with a fiber light to look for uterineabnormalities.
- Ultrasound to look at the uterus and ovaries. May be done vaginallyor abdominally.
- Sonohystogram combines an ultrasound and saline injected into the uterusto look for abnormalities or problems.
Tracking your ovulation through fertilityawareness will also help your healthcare provider assess your fertilitystatus .
How is female infertility treated?
Female infertility is most often treated by one or more of the followingmethods:
- Taking hormones to address a hormone imbalance,endometriosis, or a short menstrual cycle
- Taking medications to stimulate ovulation
- Using supplements to enhance fertility – shop supplements
- Taking antibiotics to remove an infection
- Having minor surgery to remove blockageor scar tissues from the fallopian tubes, uterus, or pelvic area.
Can female infertility be prevented?
There is usually nothing that can be done to prevent female infertilitycaused by genetic problems or illness. However, there are several thingsthat women can do to decrease the possibility of infertility:
- Take steps to prevent sexually transmitted diseases
- Avoid illicit drugs
- Avoid heavy or frequent alcohol use
- Adopt good personal hygiene and health practices
- Have annual check ups with your GYN once you are sexually active
When should I contact my healthcare provider?
It is important to contact your healthcare provider if you experienceany of the following symptoms:
- Abnormal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
- Unusual discharge
- Pain or discomfort during intercourse
- Soreness or itching in the vaginal area
Compiled using information from the following sources:
RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, http://www.resolve.org
American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), http://www.asrm.org