Women’s Infertility – Causes and Solutions

Written by Janelle Lawrence

On August 30, 2012

Infertility affects millions of women worldwide and it can be a terrible burden to bear. If you’ve been trying to conceive and are still not getting pregnant after a year of unprotected sexual intercourse, you may be struggling with infertility. There are many causes of female infertility, most of them easily treatable.

Common Causes of Infertility

  1. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

This common hormonal disorder may be the reason you’re having trouble getting pregnant. Symptoms of PCOS include absent or irregular menstrual cycles, excessive facial hair, enlarged ovaries, and premature hair loss. Though there is no cure for polycystic ovarian syndrome, the condition can be treated. Since women with this disorder are often overweight, your doctor will recommend a healthy modified diet to get your weight under control. He may also prescribe two medications. One, an anti-androgen to control excessive facial hair and two, a diabetes drug called metformin to lower insulin levels and regulate periods. With proper treatment, women with PCOS should have no trouble getting pregnant.

  1. Endometriosis

Endometriosis is one of the most common causes of female infertility. It means the cells from the lining of the womb grow in other parts of the body. This can lead to extremely heavy periods, pain, and inability to get pregnant. It is believed this disorder is caused by retrograde menstruation, where the endometrial cells in the menstrual blood travels backward into the fallopian tubes. The most common treatments for this condition are hormone replacement therapy and pelvic laparoscopy. While these treatments will not cure the condition, they can make getting pregnant much easier.

  1. Thyroid Disease

If you’ve had a few miscarriages, it may be a sign of undiagnosed thyroid disease. Hypothyroidism or under-active thyroid can lead to trouble with conception because it prevents ovulation. Even if you’re having normal, regular periods, you may still not be ovulating. Hypothyroidism also contributes to elevated levels of prolactin, the hormone that induces the production of breast milk in post-partum women. Your body is tricked into thinking you’ve just had a child making getting pregnant almost impossible. Thyroid disease often means there’s an underlying autoimmune condition going on.

Hypothyroidism can be treated naturally with diet. Give up the refined sugars and processed foods and increase your intake of protein-rich foods such as organic beef, chicken, wild-caught fish, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes. Also, when you’re trying get pregnant, don’t worry about your waistline. Eat plenty of healthy fats such as avocado, nut butters, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, yogurt, and full-fat cottage cheese.

  1. Gluten Intolerance

Gluten intolerance is an autoimmune condition characterized by the inability of the body to digest gluten, a protein found in barley, wheat, and rye. When a person with gluten intolerance eats this protein, it results in chronic inflammation and malabsorption of nutrients. Not enough nutrients and autoimmune disease means difficulty getting pregnant.

Common symptoms of this gluten intolerance include abdominal cramping, chronic fatigue, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and brain fog. The best way to determine if gluten intolerance is interfering with your ability to get pregnant is to cut gluten from your diet completely for at least one month. If your symptoms disappear, you’ve found the cause of your mysterious infertility!

  1. Sperm Allergy

In rare cases, some women actually develop a sperm allergy. If you have itching and burning in your vagina right after sex, this could be the reason you’re having trouble getting pregnant. Women with a semen allergy can still get pregnant using artificial insemination. The sperm is washed free of allergy-producing proteins and delivered into the uterus directly.

  1. Eating Disorders

Anorexia and bulimia can cause infertility by interfering with the body’s natural ability to absorb nutrients. With anorexia, a woman will become thinner and thinner as a result of starvation and her periods may completely stop. If left untreated, anorexia can result in a permanent absence of a menstrual period due to irreversible body damage. If an eating disorder is stopping you from getting pregnant, it is important you get professional treatment before attempting to conceive.

  1. Age

Women over the age of 35 may find it more difficult than younger women to conceive a child. This is because the quality of eggs deteriorates as a woman gets older. Some women in their mid-thirties go through peri-menopause where ovulation and menstrual periods become less predictable. This doesn’t mean women in their late thirties or forties can’t conceive a child, it just means it might take longer. Also, it’s important to be in prime health. This means giving up smoking, cutting out alcohol, and getting back in shape. A healthy, preservative-free diet can also help increase your chances of having a baby at this age.

  1. Sexually Transmitted Disease

According to the World Health Organization, 70% of women with chlamydia infection are asymptomatic so if a sexually transmitted disease is keeping you from getting pregnant, you may not even be aware of it. Syphilis, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and HPV infection can also contribute to female infertility. Most sexually transmitted diseases can be cured with a few rounds of antibiotics. However, when STDs are left untreated for too long, it may lead to permanent fertility complications. Talk with your doctor and have a complete gynecological examination before trying to conceive.

  1. Blocked Fallopian Tubes

Each month, an egg is released from the ovaries and travels down one of two fallopian tubes to the uterus where it awaits fertilization. If one of both of these tubes is blocked, it can make getting pregnant difficult. Some women have only partially-blocked fallopian tubes, which can result in ectopic pregnancy. Unlike endometriosis or sperm allergy, blocked fallopian tubes often have no symptoms at all. The only way to tell if this is the reason for your trouble is to get a special X-ray called a hysterosalpingogram (HSG). Hormonal treatments are often used for women with one blocked tube. It encourages eggs to release from the tube with no blockage. In the case of two blocked tubes, laparoscopic surgery is the common solution.

  1. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease is caused by an infection in a woman’s pelvic organs. The most common cause of PID is sexually transmitted disease. Your risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease increases if you are having sex with multiple partners, douching or have used an intrauterine device.

Symptoms of PID include fever, a foul odor coming from the vagina, pain during sexual intercourse, pain during urination, irregular menstrual cycle, and pain in the upper right abdomen. Pelvic inflammatory disease can be easily treated with antibiotics. It is important that your male partner get treatment and be checked for any sexually transmitted disease before resuming sexual activity.

No matter the reason for your infertility problems, a visit and honest discussion with your gynecologist should help clear up any underlying health problems that may be stopping you from getting pregnant. In the case of gluten intolerance, thyroid disease or malnutrition, you may want to book an appointment with your general practitioner or a dietician. You’ll get through this. Infertility isn’t your fault and you, your doctor, and your partner will get through it together.

Have you struggled with infertility? Share your story in the comments below. 

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