Infertility is a common condition that impacts both men and women. In Canada, about 1 in 6 couples experience infertility. However, there are many options and treatments available to address the various causes.
Signs of infertility often go unnoticed until a couple or individual is trying to conceive, which can often be frustrating and stressful. Being aware of the signs of infertility in women and men can help empower you to seek out treatment. In this article, we’ll provide a thorough outline of some of the key indicators of infertility for both men and women.
Women’s Age and Infertility
Women’s age and infertility go hand-in-hand. A woman’s 20s mark the most fertile years. During this decade of life, she has a higher probability of getting pregnant. This is due to lower pregnancy risks and a greater amount of quality eggs.
Throughout a woman’s 30s, fertility begins to decline — specifically after the age of 35. This decline in fertility slowly begins around 32 years of age. While most women are born with around one million eggs, by age 37 a woman has only about 25,000 remaining.
Fertility continues to further decline in a woman’s 40s. The number of quality eggs diminishes, which increases the odds of complications, such as birth defects. There are also other risks involved when it comes to conceiving after 40, including C-section delivery, stillbirth, low birth rate, and premature birth.
However, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to conceive and have a healthy baby in your mid-30s or early 40s. There is hope. With the right fertility plan, you can achieve your baby dreams.
History of STDs and Infertility
Can sexually transmitted diseases or infections (STDs) cause infertility? Yes, STDs, specifically chlamydia and gonorrhea, are leading causes of preventable infertility. This often comes down to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) — which is greatly increased in patients with an STD.
PID and infertility are closely linked. PID can cause scarring, inflammation, blockage of the fallopian tubes, and damage to the uterus or surrounding tissues, ultimately, leading to infertility.
STDs often go unnoticed. This is why it is important to ensure you and your partner get tested before sexual activity and/or if you’re sexually active with multiple partners — and before trying to conceive.
PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and Infertility
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that causes issues with the ovaries. This condition impacts approximately 1 out of 10 women of reproductive age.
The ovaries are responsible for releasing an egg each month at the appropriate time during a woman’s cycle. An individual with PCOS may not have fully developed eggs, or their eggs may not release from the ovaries each month. Without a mature, fully developed egg, pregnancy can’t take place.
However, PCOS infertility is treatable. Treatment usually depends on your specific health situation. If you’re experiencing PCOS, your doctor or fertility team can discuss your options with you to determine the best way to help you improve your fertility. Below, we dive into more detail regarding PCOS, infertility, and the associated symptoms.
Irregular Periods and PCOS
A woman with PCOS often skips a period or has fewer periods than the average person (this usually means having less than eight periods a year). In fact, this is one of the most common signs of PCOS. A diagnosis of PCOS is frequently made due to irregular periods, excess androgen hormone levels, and enlarged ovaries.
Do irregular periods mean infertility? Not exactly. Many women with irregular periods conceive and have healthy and normal pregnancies.
Weight Gain and PCOS
The hormonal imbalances and metabolic issues with PCOS can lead to weight gain and difficulty losing weight. Weight gain and PCOS can also make it more difficult to conceive. With excess weight, the risk of anovulation (missed ovulation) is increased. While it may be more difficult, it is still possible to conceive despite weight gain and a PCOS diagnosis.
Hair Growth and PCOS
Many women with PCOS experience hair growth on their face, chin, and body. This is known as hirsutism, which impacts approximately 70% of women with PCOS. This hair growth happens due to an elevated amount of testosterone, a hormone that stimulates the development of male sexual characteristics.
Painful Periods as a Sign of Infertility
Do painful periods mean infertility? Not necessarily. While painful periods themselves don’t necessarily mean infertility, some conditions which cause painful periods can lead to infertility. Ensuring you get a proper diagnosis of these conditions, and seeking out appropriate treatment can help improve your odds of success when it comes to conceiving.
Endometriosis and Infertility
Endometriosis is a disorder where tissue that usually lines the uterus is found growing outside of the uterus, such as in the ovaries or fallopian tubes. A major symptom of endometriosis is painful periods. Cramps may begin days before you have your period and last several days during your period. Sometimes, this pain is also accompanied by back pain and abdominal pain.
PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease) and Infertility
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection that takes place in a woman’s reproductive organs. The symptoms frequently include pain in the lower abdomen, an unusual discharge from the vagina, pain or bleeding during sex, a burning sensation during urination, bleeding between periods, and a fever. PID is usually caused by an STD, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia.
This condition may lead to scarring of the fallopian tubes, which may block the release of the egg. As such, the egg cannot become fertilized. However, many women with PID are still able to conceive through fertility treatment, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Chronic Illnesses and Infertility
Chronic illnesses may halt ovulation or sperm production. This can lead to various difficulties getting pregnant. The following sections offer an overview of common chronic illnesses that may impact infertility.
Cancer Treatment and Infertility
Infertility may result in various ways through cancer treatment. In some cases, part or all of the reproductive organs must be removed via surgery. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy may also lead to infertility problems by impacting and potentially damaging the reproductive organs, eggs, and/or sperm. Hormonal drug therapy is another cancer treatment that may suppress ovulation or sperm production.
Many of these treatments have temporary effects. Typically, the younger you are during these cancer treatments, the more likely your fertility levels will return once it is complete.
Diabetes and Infertility
While diabetes may lead to infertility, proper management of this condition can reduce fertility issues. Many instances where diabetes impacts fertility also involve weight gain, obesity, PCOS, autoimmune disorders, or other diabetic complications.
Hypothyroidism and Infertility
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones. This can lead to fatigue, weight gain, constipation, muscle pains, and infertility. When not enough thyroid hormones are present, the ovary may not release the egg, resulting in fertility problems. Through fertility care and treatment, it is possible to become pregnant despite this condition.
Unmanaged Celiac Disease and Infertility
Celiac disease occurs when an individual has an autoimmune reaction to eating gluten. Unmanaged or undiagnosed celiac disease can lead to further problems, including depression, anemia, and osteoporosis. It can also cause unexplained infertility issues in women and men.
Experts believe that celiac disease contributes to infertility due to malnutrition. The body is unable to absorb the nutrients in the food you eat, which can lead to various health issues that interfere with your body’s ability to conceive. Proper treatment for celiac disease has enabled many couples and individuals to become pregnant. Typically, this involves going on a gluten-free diet, which eliminates the cause of the autoimmune reaction within the body.
Signs of Infertility in Men
Approximately one-third of infertility cases are due to male reproductive issues. Signs of infertility in men frequently involve low sperm production or sperm quality. For pregnancy to take place:
- Sperm must be healthy
- Sperm must be carried through the semen
- There must be enough sperm
- And the sperm must have good motility (movement)
Any issues involving the sperm may result in difficulty getting pregnant. One of the most common causes of male factor infertility is discussed in more detail below.
Varicocele infertility happens when the veins that drain into the testicles swell. This can impact the sperm, as well as the health of the testicles. However, this issue is easily reversible through surgery.
Other contributing factors to infertility in men involve infection, ejaculation problems, hormonal imbalances, and certain medications.
At ELITE IVF, we understand the hurdles that come with getting pregnant, and we’re here to help. Our compassionate and caring team can help you navigate your way toward the family you’ve always dreamed of. If you’re ready to begin your fertility journey, contact us today.