What is female infertility?
Infertility is a condition that affects approximately 1 out of every 6 couples. An infertility diagnosis is given to a couple that has been unsuccessful in efforts to conceive over the course of one full year. When the cause of infertility exists within the female partner, it is referred to as female infertility.
How common is female infertility?
Female infertility factors contribute to approximately 50% of all infertility cases, and female infertility alone accounts for approximately one-third of all infertility cases. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of female infertility?
The main symptom of infertility is the inability to get pregnant. A menstrual cycle that’s too long (35 days or more), too short (less than 21 days), irregular or absent can mean that you’re not ovulating. There may be no other outward signs or symptoms.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
When to seek help sometimes depends on your age:
- Up to age 35, most doctors recommend trying to get pregnant for at least a year before testing or treatment.
- If you’re between 35 and 40, discuss your concerns with your doctor after six months of trying.
- If you’re older than 40, your doctor may want to begin testing or treatment right away.
Your doctor may also want to begin testing or treatment right away if you or your partner has known fertility problems, or if you have a history of irregular or painful periods, pelvic inflammatory disease, repeated miscarriages, prior cancer treatment, or endometriosis.
What causes female infertility?
There are a number of things that may be keeping you from getting pregnant:
- Damage to your fallopian tubes. These structures carry eggs from your ovaries, which produce eggs, to the uterus, where the baby develops. They can get damaged when scars form after pelvic infections, endometriosis, and pelvic surgery. That can prevent sperm from reaching an egg.
- Hormonal problems. You may not be getting pregnant because your body isn’t going through the usual hormone changes that lead to the release of an egg from the ovary and the thickening of the lining of the uterus.
- Cervical issues. Some women have a condition that prevents sperm from passing through the cervical canal.
- Uterine trouble. You may have polyps and fibroids that interfere with getting pregnant. Uterine polyps and fibroids happen when too many cells grow in the endometrium, the lining of the uterus. Other abnormalities of the uterus can also interfere,
- “Unexplained” infertility. For about 20% of couples who have infertility problems, the exact causes are never pinpointed.
What increases my risk for female infertility?
There are many risk factors for female infertility, such as:
- The quality and quantity of a woman’s eggs begin to decline with increasing age. In the mid-30s, the rate of follicle loss speeds, resulting in fewer and poorer quality eggs. This makes conception more difficult, and increases the risk of miscarriage.
- Besides damaging your cervix and fallopian tubes, smoking increases your risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. It’s also thought to age your ovaries and deplete your eggs prematurely. Stop smoking before beginning fertility treatment.
- Being overweight or significantly underweight may affect normal ovulation. Getting to a healthy body mass index (BMI) may increase the frequency of ovulation and likelihood of pregnancy.
- Sexual history. Sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea can damage the fallopian tubes. Having unprotected intercourse with multiple partners increases your risk of a sexually transmitted infection that may cause fertility problems later.
- Stick to moderate alcohol consumption of no more than one alcoholic drink per day.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is female infertility diagnosed?
Your doctor may order several tests, including a blood test to check hormone levels and an endometrial biopsy to examine the lining of your uterus.
- Hysterosalpingography (HSG). This procedure involves ultrasound or X-rays of your reproductive organs. A doctor injects either dye or saline and air into your cervix, which travel up through your fallopian tubes. With this method, your doctor can check to see if the tubes are blocked.
- Your doctor puts a laparoscope — a slender tube fitted with a tiny camera — through a small cut near your belly button. This lets him view the outside of your uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes to check for abnormal growths. The doctor can also see if your fallopian tubes are blocked.
How is female infertility treated?
- If you’ve been diagnosed with tubal or pelvic disease, one option is to get surgery to reconstruct your reproductive organs. Your doctor puts a laparoscope through a cut near your belly button to get rid of scar tissue, treat endometriosis, open blocked tubes, or remove ovarian cysts, which are fluid-filled sacs that can form in the ovaries.
- Hysteroscopy . In this procedure, your doctor places a hysteroscope into your uterus through your cervix. It’s used to remove polyps and fibroid tumors, divide scar tissue, and open up blocked tubes.
- If you have ovulation problems, you may be prescribed drugs such as clomiphene citrate (Clomid, Serophene), gonadotropins (such as Gonal-F, Follistim, Humegon and Pregnyl), or letrozole. Gonadotropins can trigger ovulation when Clomid or Serophene don’t work. These drugs also can also help you get pregnant by causing your ovaries to release multiple eggs. Normally, only one egg is released each month. Your doctor may suggest that you take gonadotropin if you have unexplained infertility or when other kinds of treatment haven’t helped you get pregnant. Metformin (Glucophage) is another type of medication that may help you ovulate normally if you have insulin resistance or PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome).
- Intrauterine insemination. For this procedure, after semen gets rinsed with a special solution, a doctor places it into your uterus when you’re ovulating. It’s sometimes done while you’re taking meds that help trigger the release of an egg.
- In vitro fertilization (IVF). In this technique, your doctor places into your uterus that were fertilized in a dish. You take gonadotropins that trigger the development of more than one egg. When the eggs are mature, your doctor collects them with a device called a vaginal ultrasound probe. Sperm are then collected, washed, and added to the eggs in the dish. Several days later, embryos — or fertilized eggs — get put back into your uterus with a device called an intrauterine insemination catheter. If you and your partner agree, extra embryos can be frozen and saved to use later.
- ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection). A doctor injects sperm directly into the egg in a dish and then places it into your uterus.
- GIFT (gamete intrafallopian tube transfer) and ZIFT (zygote intrafallopian transfer). Like IVF, these procedures involve retrieving an egg, combining it with sperm in a lab, and then transferring it back to your body. In ZIFT, your doctor places the fertilized eggs — at this stage called zygotes — into your fallopian tubes within 24 hours. In GIFT, the sperm and eggs are mixed together before a doctor inserts them.
- Egg donation. This can help you if you have ovaries that don’t work right but you have a normal uterus. It involves removing eggs from the ovary of a donor who has taken fertility drugs. After in vitro fertilization, your doctor transfers the fertilized eggs into your uterus.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage female infertility?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with female infertility:
- Be prepared. The uncertainty of infertility testing and treatments can be difficult and stressful. Ask your doctor to explain the steps for your therapy to help you and your partner prepare. Understanding the process may help reduce your anxiety.
- Seek support. Although infertility can be a deeply personal issue, reach out to your partner, close family members or friends, or a professional for support. Many online support groups allow you to maintain your anonymity while you discuss issues related to infertility.
- Exercise and eat a healthy diet. Keeping up a moderate exercise routine and eating healthy foods can improve your outlook and keep you focused on living your life despite fertility problems.
- Consider other options. Determine alternatives — adoption, donor sperm or egg, or even having no children — as early as possible in the infertility treatment process. This can reduce anxiety during treatments and disappointment if conception doesn’t occur.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Female infertility. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/female-infertility/symptoms-causes/syc-20354308. Accessed November 10, 2017.
Your Guide to Female Infertility. https://www.webmd.com/infertility-and-reproduction/guide/female-infertility#1. Accessed November 10, 2017.
Female Infertility. http://americanpregnancy.org/infertility/female-infertility/. Accessed November 10, 2017.
Review Date: November 10, 2017 | Last Modified: November 10, 2017