Infertility is defined as an inability to achieve a pregnancy after one year of trying (or six months, if the female partner is over 35). Men and women are diagnosed in near-equal numbers. In women, there are a many potential causes of infertility. If a couple is struggling to conceive, there several tests that must be conducted first. Once the tests have concluded, a diagnosis for one or both partners will be conferred.
Long Island Mamas Network has listed a number of common causes of infertility, focusing specifically on women’s issues. For Long Island resources, read our article Treating Infertility on Long Island. Please note that this article is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical problem as only a doctor can provide these services.
Endometriosis is a common culprit of infertility; it’s one of the three most likely causes. The disease gets its name from the word endometrium, or uterine lining. Endometriosis occurs when that lining starts to grow in other parts of the reproductive tract (ovaries, fallopian tubes, outside the uterine wall, or even within the abdominal cavity). The abnormal growths can interfere with fertilization and/or implantation of an egg. The disease is “staged” 1-4, depending on the amount and location of the growths.
Symptoms may include pain during menstruation, intercourse or during bowel movements or urination. However, some women are completely asymptomatic and do not realize they have an issue until they try to become pregnant. Once diagnosed, a woman and her doctor can come up with an appropriate treatment plan.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is the most common cause of infertility, linked to excessive insulin in the body. The insulin affects hormones in the body. Women with PCOS produce too much androgen (a male hormone), which impacts the ability to ovulate. The disease is characterized by irregular menstrual cycles and cysts on ovaries.
According to WomensHealth.gov, “In women with PCOS, the ovary doesn’t make all of the hormones it needs for an egg to fully mature. The follicles may start to grow and build but ovulation does not occur. Instead, some follicles may remain as cysts.
Other Potential Issues
Polyps and Fibroids are typically benign growths within the uterus. They can affect the ability for sperm to reach an egg or for a fertilized embryo to implant.
Women with a uterine septum (a wall splitting the uterus in half) may experience recurrent miscarriages or have trouble achieving a pregnancy. Blockages within the fallopian tubes will keep an egg from being released. A partially blocked tube may contribute to ectopic pregnancies which can be very dangerous. Seemingly unrelated medical problems, like diabetes and thyroid, can also contribute to fertility problems.
Any woman trying to become pregnant should get to know her body. Sudden changes, mid-cycle bleeding, or pain should be reported to a caregiver, as these symptoms can a sign of a significant problem. In many cases, the causes of infertility are treatable. For many people, surgery and/or different kinds of treatments will help them. A correct diagnosis is the first, and arguably the most important, step in the journey to parenthood.
By Rachel Minkowsky