Infertility, which is defined as not being able to become pregnant after a year of unprotected sex, is a common issue. It affects about one in six couples. At one time, it was considered a female issue, but we know now that men can have problems that cause infertility, as well. When infertility is a female issue, though, there are some common causes.
Dr. Parisa Pourzand and her staff understand that infertility can be a difficult physical and emotional issue. In many cases, we can help you understand why you’re struggling to get pregnant, and suggest treatments that may help. In this post, we discuss some of the causes of infertility we see most often, along with potential treatment options.
You probably already know where babies come from, but you may not understand the processes within your own body. In order for you to become pregnant, several things have to happen smoothly:
- One of your ovaries must release an egg
- That egg travels through your fallopian tube to your uterus
- Your egg meets up with some sperm and gets fertilized
- Your egg must be fertilized within 24 hours of being released or it dissolves
- Once the egg is fertilized, it implants in the lining of your uterus
As you might imagine, there are multiple points where things can go awry in the process. The most common fertility problems in women are related to ovulation. Hormones make the eggs in your ovaries grow, trigger the release of an egg each month, thicken the lining of your uterus, and even make the mucus in your cervix slippier so that it’s easier for sperm to reach the egg.
Hormonal imbalances that disrupt ovulation are the most common cause of female infertility. There are several different hormonal problems that can prevent you from becoming pregnant.
The most common sort of hormonal imbalance is a group of disorders called polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. PCOS is associated with insulin resistance and obesity, as well as abnormal hair growth, irregular menstruation, acne, and depression.
There are treatments for PCOS. You may need to make some lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, or changing your diet, or you may need to take medications.
Another hormone-related issue that can cause infertility in women is hypothalamic dysfunction. This is a problem with two hormones that are necessary for ovulation, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). If you don’t have periods or your periods are irregular, hypothalamic dysfunction could be an issue.
Very high or very low bodyweight, as well as physical or emotional stress, can cause problems with FSH and LH. Lifestyle changes may correct the issue.
Premature ovarian failure
You’re born with eggs in your ovaries, but your body releases hormones that allow them to grow and be released. Normally, as you age, your eggs become less viable as your body produces less of the hormones necessary for your eggs to grow properly and be released.
If your body stops producing eggs and making enough estrogen before you’re 40 years old, it’s called premature ovarian failure. It may be related to chemotherapy, or it could be your genetic makeup. There are approaches to treatment, but the best one depends on many, highly variable factors.
In addition to hormonal problems, female infertility can be caused by damage to your fallopian tubes that prevents an egg from traveling through them intact. Previous surgery, pelvic inflammatory disease, and other diseases can all cause damage to your fallopian tubes.
You can also have issues with your uterus or cervix that cause infertility. Fibroid tumors, which are benign, can interfere with your fertilized egg being able to implant, for example. Endometriosis can cause scarring that makes it difficult for an egg to implant, and having an abnormally shaped uterus can pose problems.
If your cervix narrows, a condition called cervical stenosis, you may struggle to become pregnant, and the quality of the mucus your cervix produces can make it difficult for the sperm to travel through to your uterus where it could fertilize an egg.
Unfortunately, in a significant number of cases, no cause of infertility is ever identified. This is called unexplained infertility, and it could be due to a number of problems that are minor on their own but when taken together cause infertility. Sometimes, unexplained infertility resolves, but it can certainly be a frustrating situation.
If you’re struggling to become pregnant, schedule an appointment with Dr. Pourzand. There may be a treatment option that you haven’t considered.