Even though female infertility may seem more common than infertility in men, it’s not. But rarely does that fact help us feel better.
The myths and facts surrounding female infertility can be pretty hard to sort sometimes. For decades, infertility was seen solely as a woman’s burden, and even though we now know that 40-50% of infertility diagnoses are male, it does little to stop the uncomfortable feelings of guilt and frustration when struggling with it first-hand. Suffering from infertility is a hard journey for anyone, male or female.
Knowing how and when to ask for help is perhaps the first step in tackling the consuming emotional journey of infertility. Causes of female infertility are rarely something that the person suffering from it can control. Most feminine infertility is caused by issues that are related to genetic or trauma and are rarely associated with lifestyle choices. The feelings that result from struggles with infertility, however, can be extremely brutal and wholly devastating. Miscarriages, physical and emotional pain, and feelings of abandonment or low self-worth are all closely related to infertility problems.
What Causes Female Infertility?
- As a woman matures, she releases few eggs per ovulation cycle. The eggs themselves also age. This can decrease fertility levels and is thought to contribute to some possible congenital defects of the fetus.
Premature Ovarian Failure
- This is when the ovaries lose their ability to function, before age 40. This is also considered a part of premature menopause.
- Naturally occurring menopause generally happens around age 51, and the woman’s ovaries cease to release eggs and diminish hormone production.
- Problems arising from a decrease in hormone secretion from the hypothalamus. This can also be associated with pituitary gland secretion issues.
- When too much prolactin is released into the bloodstream outside of normal body changes that are associated with pregnancy.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Generally caused by elevated male hormones within a female system, PCOS. PCOS can stop ovulation entirely and cause frequent and painful cysts to grow on the ovaries.
- When a woman simply does not ovulation. Causes for anovulation vary, and some are even idiopathic, meaning doctors aren’t sure what the root cause is.
Poor Ovarian Reserve
- Poor Ovarian Reserve can occur when a woman doesn’t naturally produce many egg cells, or may have a condition that prevents them from developing or recruiting them.
- Any problem that occurs during the development of the corpus luteum, or the luteal phase is shorter than normal. The luteal phase is the latter half of the menstrual cycle that either ends in pregnancy or breaks down, resulting in a monthly period.
- Endometriosis occurs when endometrial cells (uterine lining cells) attach in areas that are outside of the uterus. This can lead to difficulties in getting embryos to attach properly to the uterine wall.
- While most uteruses have a shape unique to themselves, some are malformed in such a way that it is impossible to be able to carry a child to term.
- Asherman’s Syndrome is when scar tissue forms inside the uterus or the cervix. There are surgical options to correct this problem.
- This is when the opening to the cervix is far more narrow than normal, making it difficult for sperm to pass through. In extreme cases, the cervix can be fully closed.
Non-receptive Cervical Mucus
- This is when the normal mucus that the cervix creates is either diminished in production, or it creates an extremely unfavorable environment for sperm. Effectively killing them off before they can fertilize an egg.
- While this is normally only present the first few times a woman has intercourse, some women may experience this phenomenon throughout their lifetimes. Vaginismus occurs when involuntary muscle spasms in the vagina prevent penetration and cause extreme pain.
- Tobacco Use
- Marijuana Use
- Radiation Exposure
- Adhesions or Scarring Related to Surgery
- Previous Ectopic Pregnancy
- Uterine Fibroids
- Vaginal Obstruction
What are the Symptoms of Female Infertility?
Some common signs of infertility in women are irregular periods, or difficult and painful periods, abnormally heavy periods, or no periods at all. If you’re experiencing regular signs of hormone fluctuations, like skin irregularities, reduced sex drive, facial hair growth, hot flashes, thinning hair, or unreasonable weight gain- these can all be signs of a hormone irregularity. Which in turn can adversely affect fertility?
Having regular, unprotected sex for a year or longer, that hasn’t resulted in pregnancy, experiencing intense pain during sex, or have suffered multiple miscarriages, are also all signs that you may need to speak with a fertility specialist. Fertility specialists can offer you a piece of mind and possibly an approachable diagnosis, with which you can then begin to consider all of the treatment options that are available to you.
Fertility specialists are there to help in any way they can, speak to your primary doctor or a fertility specialist anytime you think that you may be experiencing troubles that are outside of the norm.
Further Reading and Support
Infertility is never easy, but becoming aware of causes and options can help bring some much-needed hope. Make sure that during this time, you have an excellent support system, and never be afraid to reach out to a healthcare professional or seek guidance and support from online or local groups