Approximately one in six couples will have difficulties conceiving. Causes of conception difficulties and infertility in women can include:
- Ovulatory Disorders
- Fallopian Tube Damage
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
- Cervical / Uterine Factors
- Medical Drugs / Conditions
- Social / Environmental Poisons
- Unexplained Infertility
- Treatment of infertility
Couples with infertility problems need to recognise the stress that these problems can cause and help each other to cope with the problem. There are many options available for the treatment of infertility problems, many of which can be time consuming and expensive.
Many fertility problems are treated with medication, improvement in lifestyle or minor surgical procedures.
Assisted Conception and IVF Techniques can be a solution for some couples in the treatment of infertility, but the emotional cost of these methods can be very high!
The most common cause of female infertility is not being able to release an egg. This can be due to hormonal problems, an under or over-active thyroid gland, disturbance of the pituitary gland, chronic illness, nutritional deficiencies and sometimes excessive exercise and extreme weight loss. Other ovarian problems include scarring from surgery, infection or side effects from radiation treatment.
Most hormonal problems can be detected by blood tests and for 90% of women experiencing hormonal problems, modern medicine can result in regular ovulation.
Fallopian tube damage
Blockages in or damage to the fallopian tubes can be a barrier to natural conception. Causes of blockage or damage (such as scarring) can include a previous ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammation, previous surgical procedures or infections.
Sometimes the tissue normally found in the uterine lining can travel and grow on more unusual surfaces, including fallopian tubes, ovaries and the abdomen. This can result in scarring and adhesions, which in turn can lead to very painful periods, abdominal distension and difficulty conceiving.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
This condition may be experienced by up to 20% of women and results in cysts on the ovaries and a change in the balance of sex hormones. Symptoms can include an irregular and infrequent menstrual cycle, excess hair growth, reduced fertility and sometimes, but not always, excess weight. This condition can be diagnosed by blood tests and an examination of the ovaries by ultrasound.
Cervical factors / Uterine factors
For sperm to successfully fertilise an egg, it must first reach the egg by swimming through cervical mucus. Sometimes the sperm is unable to reach egg and fertilisation cannot occur. This can be the result of not enough mucus, mucus that is too thick for the sperm to penetrate, or mucus that contains antibodies that attack the sperm. In these cases, artificial insemination may be an option.
Sometimes problems with the uterus can interfere with fertility. These factors can include congenital abnormalities or the existence of adhesions, polyps, fibroids or endometriosis.
Women who have used the oral contraceptive pill may in some cases experience a delay of a few months before a regular menstrual cycle is re-established. While this can lead to delayed fertility as a regular cycle is being established, conception rates then generally rise to the level of non pill users. Users of intra-uterine devices have an increased but slight risk of pelvic inflammatory disease and tubal damage.
Medical drugs / conditions
Medical drugs can interfere with fertility, however most interference's are almost always reversible. Such drugs include anti-cancer agents, hormone preparations and some drugs used to treat mental illnesses, nausea and high blood pressure. When conditions such as diabetes and thyroid disease are not well controlled, they can also cause infertility.
Social / environmental poisons
Some studies have shown that women who smoke or drink alcohol have slightly reduced fertility rates, however there are many other possible explanations for these results, including dietary habits. Other social factors such as recreational drugs may reduce the chances of fertility and can have a devastating effect on the outcome of your pregnancy.
Other studies have examined women's exposure to environmental conditions such as chemicals in the work place. These studies reported reduced fertility rates in association with certain substances including textile and leather dyes, lead, mercury, benzene, petroleum and related chemicals.
For the best possible outcome for you and your baby, you should avoid exposure to social and environmental poisons wherever possible prior to and during pregnancy.
This is a concern in developing countries where malnutrition and severe weight loss can prevent a woman from menstruating, which in turn can result in infertility. No major research has been carried out into nutritional deficiencies in developed countries, however some small reports suggest that deficiencies of iron, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B3 are associated with reduced fertility.
Prior to and during pregnancy you should ensure that you eat a balanced and nutritious diet.
Sometimes, despite careful assessment of a couple, the cause of infertility may remain unexplained. Couples in this category still experience a good rate of spontaneous pregnancy, however if spontaneous conception has not occurred after a few years, then some form of treatment is appropriate.