Infertility in Women

Infertility is not being able to conceive after a year of trying. This means having regular, unprotected sex. About one-third of cases are caused by male factors. An equal number are caused by female factors. In the remaining cases, the cause is unknown or is due to problems with both partners.

  • Causes

    Successful conception involves many steps:

    • An egg is released from the woman's ovaries (ovulation).
    • The egg travels to the fallopian tubes. Here the man's sperm can fertilize it.
    • If the egg is fertilized (conception), it moves down the fallopian tubes to the uterus.
    • It implants itself into the wall of the uterus. It then begins its 40 weeks of fetal growth.

    Most cases of infertility are due to problems with ovulation or problems with fallopian tubes.

    Female Reproductive Organs
    Fallopian Tube, Ovary, and Uterus
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Definition

    Infertility is not being able to conceive after a year of trying. This means having regular, unprotected sex. About one-third of cases are caused by male factors. An equal number are caused by female factors. In the remaining cases, the cause is unknown or is due to problems with both partners.

  • Diagnosis

    During the first visit, you will both be evaluated. The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. Your doctor will look for physical problems that might cause infertility.

    The following tests may be done to see if you are ovulating:

    • Basal body temperature—rises at ovulation and remains elevated during the second half of your cycle and throughout pregnancy; you take your temperature every day and record it on a chart
    • Blood test—to measure hormone levels
    • Endometrial biopsy—to see if ovulation is causing changes in the lining of the uterus

    The following may be done to check if your uterus and fallopian tubes are normal:

    • Hysterosalpingography
      (HSG)—an x-ray of the uterus and fallopian tubes
    • Transvaginal ultrasound—a device inserted into the vagina to take a "picture" of the pelvic organs
    • Hysteroscopy—a thin device inserted through the cervix to look inside the uterus
    • Laparoscopy—a small device with a camera is inserted into incisions in the abdomen, allowing the doctor to examine the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and uterus

  • Prevention

    Not all causes of infertility can be prevented. The following steps may help:

    • Stop smoking.
    • Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol.
    • Maintain a healthy body weight.

    • Protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) by using
      condoms. Minimize the number of sexual partners you have.

    • Try
      stress management techniques.

  • Risk Factors

    These factors increase your chance of developing infertility:

    • Age: older than 35 years old

    • Very high or very low levels of
      body fat
      (resulting in lack of ovulation),
      obesity
    • Excessive exercise (causing to severe a loss of body fat)

    • Chronic diseases, such as:

      • Diabetes
      • Lupus
      • Arthritis
      • Hypertension
      • Asthma
    • Smoking
    • Caffeine
      consumption
    • Alcohol intake

    • Occupational exposure to:

      • High temperatures
      • Toxic substances
      • Chemicals
      • Pesticides
      • Radiation
      • Constant stress

    • History of:

      • Pelvic inflammatory disease
      • Endometriosis
      • Polycystic ovaries
      • Ectopic pregnancy
      • Kidney failure
      • Cirrhosis
      • Pituitary tumors
      • Anorexia nervosa

      • Autoimmune
        hypothyroidism
      • Uterine fibroids
      • Pelvic surgery (including uterine surgery)
      • Ulcerative colitis
      • Crohn disease
      • Epilepsy
      • Cushing's disease
      • Sickle cell anemia
      • HIV
        infection
      • Kidney disease
      • Appendicitis
        with complications (ruptured appendix)

    • Medications, including

      • Acetaminophen
      • Ibuprofen
      • Pain medications
      • Antibiotics
      • Antidepressants

  • Symptoms

    After one year of trying to conceive, you and your partner should seek help.

  • Treatment

    Treatment depends on what is causing the condition. Treatments can be costly and lengthy. They often are not covered by insurance.