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causes of infertility in women

A diagnosis of infertility is given to a couple if they have been trying to have a baby for at least a year, but are unsuccessful. Women and men can both have problems that can cause infertility.

Infertility affects millions of couples worldwide. Undergoing fertility health checks can help a couple identify the causes of infertility, and based on the diagnosis, effective fertility treatments would be recommended.

In women, the reasons for infertility are many, as the process of pregnancy involves many steps. Thus, listed below are a few of the most common causes of infertility in women, for which possible treatments are available.

Reasons For Infertility in Women

1. Ovulation Disorders

Failure to ovulate is one of the primary infertility causes in women. Ovulation occurs when a mature egg is released by the ovary into the fallopian tube for fertilization. Ovulation disorders can be caused by polycystic ovary syndrome, endocrine disorders or due to ageing, which results in low ovarian reserve. Other reasons for this disorder might be obesity/underweight, stress, excessive exercise, alcohol, smoking etc.

2. Uterine Fibroids

Fibroids are non-cancerous tissues that form inside or outside the uterus. In most cases, fibroids remain undetected and are usually painless. Depending on the size and where it is located, the symptoms of fibroids include heavy periods, pain during sexual intercourse, pelvic pain, among others.

Fibroids can also cause infertility in women if they block the fallopian tube or change the position of the cervix or the shape of the uterus, which prevents the sperm from entering the uterus and fertilizing the egg. Diagnosis includes fibroids tests and examinations, which can be done by a gynaecologist

3. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

A result of untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea, pelvic inflammatory disease can scar the organs & tissues in the pelvis area. In most cases, women don’t experience any symptoms when affected by STIs, and hence don’t seek any treatment.

This, however, can lead to infertility as the scar tissues on the internal reproductive organs could block or slightly damage the fallopian tube. Diagnosis of PID is difficult, but if you are sexually active and have been experiencing lower abdominal pain, then contacting a professional gynaecologist is important.

He/she will run tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and other STIs, and recommend treatments accordingly. Also, to avoid the risk of PID in the future, ensure you go for regular sexual health check-ups.

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4. Endometriosis

One of the other reasons for infertility in women is Endometriosis. Studies have shown that 30 to 50% of women with endometriosis may be infertile, and 25 to 50% of infertile women may have endometriosis.

Endometriosis is a reproductive disorder, wherein endometrium lining of the uterus grows on other organs, primarily the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the pelvis area. It can damage the ovary, block/damage the fallopian tubes, or cause pain during sexual intercourse, which further diminishes the chance of getting pregnant.

Diagnosis is done through Laparoscopy, and relief from Endometriosis involves medication or surgery.

5. Irregular Periods

Another cause for infertility in women is irregular or absent menstrual periods. Menstrual cycle plays a key role in fertility, and as such, an irregular cycle makes getting pregnant difficult. The likely causes for irregular periods could be stress, weight issue, intense exercise, PCOS, menopause, or endometriosis. If you are on hormonal birth control pill, then this could also result in an irregular period.

Note that irregular or missed periods is also one of the signs of early pregnancy. Thus, visit a gynaecologist to ascertain the cause of late periods, after which, treatments could be started.

6. Damaged/Blocked Fallopian Tubes

Damaged or blocked fallopian tubes prevent the sperm from reaching the egg or blocks the passage of the fertilized egg from moving to the uterus to be implanted. Common causes for blocked/damaged fallopian tubes are fibroids, PID, endometriosis, pelvic adhesions etc.

This the most common cause of infertility in women, and depending on the diagnosis, whether both tubes are fully blocked or partially blocked, likely treatments would be suggested.

7. Early Menopause

If Menopause happens before the age of 40, it is called early menopause. The probable causes for early menopause are primary ovarian insufficiency, cancer treatment (chemotherapy and radiation therapy), surgical causes (removal of ovaries), among others.

Women who are already in their early menopausal stage may find it difficult to get pregnant. However, there are options through which women can have children after menopause these include; IVF using a donor egg, surrogacy, or adoption.

8. Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI)

Also referred to as a premature ovarian failure, POI is a condition, wherein the ovaries stop producing the hormone estrogen or fail to release eggs regularly before the age of 40. The signs & symptoms of POI may be similar to those undergoing early menopause.

But, a sharp distinction between the two is; women with early menopause stop having periods and can’t become pregnant, whereas, women with POI have irregular periods and might even become pregnant.

Causes for premature ovarian failure include chemotherapy & radiation therapy, genetic disorders, autoimmune response, and other unknown factors. Inability to get pregnant and osteoporosis are a few of the complications of POI. Diagnosis involves pelvic exam, FSH tests, and other tests, and treatment includes estrogen therapy, calcium & vitamin D supplements, among others

9. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is one of the other common causes of infertility. This condition causes a hormone imbalance, which, in turn, affects ovulation. Its symptoms include weight gain, heavy bleeding during periods, reduced fertility etc. For diagnosis, there are different tests and examinations available, however, there is no cure for it. But, a healthcare provider offering PCOS service, could help you treat its various symptoms.

Further Reading: PCOS And It’s Impact On Fertility: Treatment & Outcome

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These are some of the most common causes of infertility in women. When the reason for infertility is established, it is important to start the treatment without delay. Sometimes the cause of infertility (both in men and women) is never found, this, however, happens in rare cases.

Few of the major factors that put women, especially at a higher risk of infertility is age, obesity, low weight, STIs, etc. Thus, make sure you maintain a healthy lifestyle and schedule regular well-woman check-up. This will help detect health issues early, preventing complications later on.

Hope this guide offered you a quick overview of what causes infertility. However, if you still have questions, then do leave a comment below, and we’ll get back to you or contact us for a private gynaecologist appointment.

Further Reading: Foods That Can Increase Fertility in Women [Infographic]

Neha Goel

Neha Goel, a Psychology alumna and MBA graduate from CASS Business School, London, brings together her expertise as a Reiki Practitioner and Practice Manager. She integrates psychology and business strategies to foster holistic well-being and personal development.