Female infertility is a common issue affecting millions of women around the world. For women looking to conceive and have children, infertility issues can cause major psychological strain not to mention the financial implications of undergoing infertility treatment. While the science behind reproductive health is improving and more treatment options are available, taking care of the risk factors in everyday life is the best way to improve fertility.
First it is critical to understand fertility problems in depth as well as the different causes of infertility. Once you understand this, you can figure out ways to improve your health holistically and make sure that your fertility isn’t affected. And you want to know these risk factors before seeing an obstetrician/gynecologist and before undergoing fertility treatments utilizing assisted reproductive technology.
In this blog, we will look at the various reasons for infertility in women and how lifestyles can pose risks to fertility. We will also look at a few common treatment methods to help you with your fertility issues. Read on!
Understanding Infertility and its Causes
Most women will have worries regarding infertility if they have been trying to get pregnant for a year or so unsuccessfully. In such cases, female infertility is the cause roughly one-third of the time. Male factor infertility can be the cause in another third of the cases and the rest can be attributed to unexplained infertility and/or issues with both partners.
It is generally advised that if you are less than 35 years old, you should try to conceive for one year before consulting a doctor. If you are 35 to 39 years old, it is advised to seek medical help after 6 months of unsuccessful efforts. And if you are 40 or older, you should seek help as soon as you are ready but probably no longer than 3 months. The one exception to all of this is known risk factors. If you know you have another risk factor (not ovulating, blocked tubes, no sperm, etc.), you can call for a consultation without waiting for any defined sets of time.
There are many female causes of infertility and some of the common issues seen are below.
Issues with the Uterus/Cervix or Fallopian Tubes
Problems in the reproductive system including the uterus, cervical canal, or fallopian tubes can cause problems with fertility. The sperm has to travel through the cervical canal and into the fallopian tubes to fertilize the egg. If there are blockages in the cervix or fallopian tubes, the sperm may not be able to reach the egg.
The fallopian tubes may be blocked due to causes such as pelvic inflammatory disease or as a result of scarring from previous surgeries such as surgery for ectopic pregnancy. Uterine issues such as polyps, fibroids, or other tumors can prevent the implantation of the embryo after fertilization and cause infertility.
Some of the issues could also be structural such as an abnormally shaped uterus or cervix. Cervical issues include stenosis where there is a narrowing of the cervix. The inability of the cervix to produce sufficient mucus that allows sperm to travel to the uterus could also result in infertility.
Regular ovulation is vital to fertility. There are several factors that can affect ovulation cycles in women and this can lead to infertility. In fact, ovulation problems are the reason for infertility in the majority of cases.
Several conditions affect ovulation cycles. Polycystic Ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that interferes with normal menstrual cycles in women and affects ovulation. Hormonal imbalances are common in women with PCOS and issues such as obesity can complicate this further.
Other hormonal imbalances can also cause issues with fertility. Problems affecting the hypothalamus can interfere with the production of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). These are vital in maintaining regular ovulation. Excess production of prolactin by the pituitary glands can also interfere with estrogen production in women.
Primary ovarian insufficiency is another problem that can cause infertility. Ovaries are unable to produce healthy eggs in this case and thus fertilization becomes impossible.
This is another common cause of infertility. Endometrial tissue can grow in other places outside the woman’s uterus in some cases. This can affect the implantation of the fertilized egg. Removal of endometrial tissue can result in scarring and can further affect fertility.
Beyond these cases, there are also several cases of unexplained infertility where a combination of factors or unknown causes can result in infertility. Consulting an OB/GYN or a reproductive endocrinologist is the best way to determine the causes if you are unable to conceive.
What are the Risk Factors Related to Infertility?
Now that we know what causes infertility, let’s look at some of the factors that are well within your control that can affect your fertility. Here are some of the common risk factors that you should be aware of.
Age is a strong factor in determining fertility. Several studies show that women in their early 20s are more fertile than women in their 30s or 40s. While it is still possible to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy anytime before menopause, the complexities associated with it may increase and you may need help from a healthcare provider and fertility drugs.
Do Diet and Exercise Affect my Fertility?
Diet and exercise have a lot of bearing on your fertility. Having a good nutritionally balanced diet can improve your fertility and having a bad diet can damage it too. This is especially relevant for women who are showing symptoms of PCOS or other such conditions and have low egg health.
Eating food that does not provide enough nutrients can interfere with the normal functioning of the reproductive organs and hormonal glands. Improper diet can also result in weight gain or weight loss and both of these factors affect women’s health.
Having a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help cut down on the free radicals in the body that can negatively impact the quality of the egg. Consuming optimum levels of protein and carbohydrates is also important. It is also recommended to cut down on caffeine and sugar as much as possible as these have also been shown to impact fertility.
Exercise is another important aspect. Not exercising enough can result in an unhealthy BMI and this can lead to hormonal imbalance. Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day is recommended by doctors. It is also recommended that women avoid highly strenuous exercises during the time they are trying to conceive. Low-intensity workouts have proven to be helpful while high-intensity ones can affect ovulation and the success rates of fertility treatments such as In-vitro fertilization(IVF).
I Have a High BMI – Will that Affect my Ability to Get Pregnant?
Weight plays an important role in fertility. Weight is closely associated with hormone production and since hormones play a vital role in ovulation and fertility, it is recommended that women maintain a healthy weight when they are trying to conceive.
Fat cells produce estrogen and if you are obese or overweight, the amount of estrogen in the body can increase which is the same effect as taking birth control pills. This can affect fertility. Being underweight can reduce the amount of estrogen in the body which can result in irregular menstrual cycles and ovulation.
A BMI of 19-25 is considered to be normal for women. A point of note here is that many women who are overweight or underweight face little to no issues getting pregnant. But if your fertility is already affected, maintaining a healthy weight will help you increase your chances of conceiving.
Should I Stop Smoking and Recreational Drugs When Trying to Conceive?
Smoking has severe adverse effects on reproductive health. Smoking increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy as well as miscarriages. Smoking also has an impact on your ovaries. It can affect the health of the eggs being produced and this can result in low fertility in women.
Recreational drug use is also not conducive to fertility. It has an impact on your reproductive health by affecting ovulation and the production of healthy eggs by the ovaries. It is recommended that you stop taking recreational drugs like cannabis and cocaine before trying to conceive.
How Much is Too Much Alcohol if I am Trying to Conceive?
Reducing or avoiding alcohol consumption is highly recommended if you are trying to conceive. Heavy consumption of alcohol is linked to ovulation disorders which affect pregnancy. Most doctors would recommend you limit your alcohol consumption to less than 2 drinks a week to maintain optimal reproductive health especially when you are trying to conceive.
In many cases, infertility can be treated and you can get pregnant naturally. Establishing the causes of infertility and treating it effectively is what matters the most. The first step in the process is finding a fertility specialist who can help you. The doctors generally recommend performing several blood tests to assess reproductive health and understand the causes.
Ovulation disorders and hormonal abnormalities can be fixed with medication. Clomiphene citrate, Metformin, Gonadotropins, and Letrozole are some of the common medications that doctors recommend to help induce and maintain ovulation and the production of mature eggs.
Surgical procedures such as laparoscopy and hysteroscopy are also often used to correct issues with the uterus, or the cervix. Tubal surgeries are also sometimes recommended to correct issues in the fallopian tubes.
Finally. assisted reproductive medicine is also an option. Procedures such as Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and IVF have proven to be very successful for people who cannot conceive naturally.
Finding a good reproductive health center and a good fertility doctor is of the utmost importance for successful fertility treatment. We at Reproductive Health & Wellness Center have helped thousands of women beat infertility and get pregnant. Book a consultation with us today!