Female Infertility

Infertility is a disease in which the ability to get pregnant and give birth to a child is impaired or limited in some way. For heterosexual couples (man and woman), this is usually diagnosed after one year of trying to get pregnant (but may be diagnosed sooner depending on other factors). For heterosexual couples, one third of causes of infertility are due to a male problem, one third are due to a female problems, and one third are due to combination or unknown reasons. When the cause of the infertility is found to come from the female partner, it’s considered female infertility or “female factor” infertility.
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How common is female infertility?

Infertility is a common disease. At least 10% of women deal with infertility of some kind. The chances of being infertile increases as a woman ages.

What causes female infertility?

There are many possible causes of infertility. However, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause, and some couples have “unexplained” infertility or “multifactorial” infertility (multiple causes, often both male and female factors). Some possible causes of female factor infertility can include:

Who is at risk for female infertility?

Many factors can increase a woman’s risk of female infertility. General health conditions, genetic (inherited) traits, lifestyle choices and age can all contribute to female infertility. Specific factors can include:

How does age impact female infertility?

As a woman ages, her chances of becoming pregnant decreases. Age is becoming a more common factor in female infertility because many couples are waiting to have children until their 30s or 40s. Women over age 35 have a higher risk of having fertility issues. The reasons for this include:

What will my doctor ask during an appointment to diagnose female infertility?

Your healthcare provider will need to know about your menstrual periods, any past pregnancies, miscarriages, pelvic pain, unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge. You may also be asked about any past pelvic infections or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Some questions may include:

What tests will my healthcare provider run to diagnose female infertility?

tests may be done in your healthcare provider’s office as a physical exam. These tests may include:
Other tests may need to be done in a lab. These tests can include:

Blood tests: The type of lab tests will depend on your health history and what diagnoses your doctor is considering. Examples of lab tests include thyroid testing, prolactin levels, tests of ovarian reserve and progesterone (a hormone produced during the menstrual cycle that signals ovulation).

X-ray hysterosalpingogram (HSG): A dye is injected into the cervix and the caregiver watches how the dye moves through the fallopian tube with an X-ray. This test checks for blockages.

Laparoscopy: In this test, a small monitoring instrument called a laparoscope is inserted into the abdomen to look at the organs.

Transvaginal ultrasound: Unlike an abdominal ultrasound (where the probe is placed over the belly), this test is done by inserting an ultrasound wand into the vagina. It allows the healthcare provider a better view of organs like the uterus and ovaries.

Saline sonohysterogram (SIS): This test is used to look at the lining of the uterus and assess for polyps, fibroids or other structural abnormalities. Saline (water) is used to fill the uterus, allowing the healthcare provider to get a better view of the uterine cavity during a transvaginal ultrasound.

Hysteroscopy: In this test, a device called a hysteroscope (a flexible, thin device with a camera on it) is inserted into the vagina and through the cervix. The healthcare provider moves it into the uterus to view the inside of the organ.

How is female infertility treated?

Once your healthcare provider has diagnosed female infertility and pinpointed the cause, there are a variety of treatment options. The cause of the infertility guides the type of treatment. For example, structural problems may be treated through surgery, while hormonal medications can be used for other issues (ovulation issues, thyroid conditions).
Many patients will require artificial insemination (injecting washed sperm into the uterus after ovulation) or in vitro fertilization (fertilizing eggs with sperm in the lab to make embryos, then transferring the embryo into the uterus).
Adoption and gestational surrogacy may also be options for women with infertility who wish to start a family.

Prevention

Can female infertility be prevented?

Most forms of female infertility cannot be predicted or prevented. However, the risk factors that may contribute to infertility can, in some cases, be controlled to prevent this condition. For example, lifestyle modifications, such as reducing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking, may be beneficial to one’s fertility, as is maintaining a healthy weight and developing good exercise habits. It’s important to regularly visit your healthcare provider and discuss any other risks you may have for female infertility.

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