What Is Infertility?
Infertility is defined as the inability to get pregnant after 12 months or more of unprotected sexual activity. Fertility issues are commonly identified after a year of attempting to get pregnant, but may be diagnosed sooner, depending on other health factors.
What Is the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Infertility?
Primary infertility and secondary infertility are two different types of infertility. Primary infertility occurs when a person has never had a pregnancy, whereas secondary infertility occurs when a person has had at least one past pregnancy.
What Are the Symptoms of Infertility in Women?
Besides having difficulty conceiving, symptoms can vary from one woman to another. For some women, there may be no apparent symptoms or indicators.
The most apparent symptoms of infertility include:
- Pelvic pain
- Heavy periods
- Skipped periods
- Unpredictable vaginal bleeding
It is essential to consult with a medical doctor for any atypical symptoms as some of these may be linked to hormonal conditions that warrant further examination.
What Causes Infertility?
Infertility in women can be caused by a range of issues, including but not limited to:
The failure to ovulate is the most common cause of infertility in women and can be attributed to ovarian conditions such as primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Moreover, aging can also lead to ovulation problems related to a reduced ovarian reserve, i.e., a low number of eggs in a woman’s ovaries.
Lifestyle and Environmental Factors:
These factors may be linked to ovulation disorder. Being underweight, obesity, excessive exercise, smoking, and substance use may affect a woman’s ovulation and fertility. Similar, studies have found that long-term exposure to organic pollutants and endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the environment can impact a woman’s fertility.
Uterine or Cervical Abnormalities:
Abnormalities in the cervix, polyps in the uterus or the shape of the uterus, noncancerous (benign) tumors in the uterine wall (uterine fibroids) may block the fallopian tubes or prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, resulting in infertility
A disorder characterized by the endometrial tissue growing outside of the uterus, affecting the function of the ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes.
Primary Ovarian Insufficiency:
Also called early menopause, when the ovaries stop functioning and menstruation ends before the age of 40.
Cancer and Treatment:
Reproductive cancers have often been linked with impaired female fertility. Radiation and chemotherapy are known to affect fertility.
What Is the Treatment of Infertility?
There are a variety of treatments available for women experiencing infertility problems.
On the medical aspect, surgical interventions can address issues related to uterine and cervical abnormalities, whereas intrauterine insemination (IUI) and invitro fertilization (IVF) can help enhance the conception process. Intrauterine insemination is a process whereby sperms are inserted into the uterus during ovulation. Invitro fertilization involves retrieving mature eggs, fertilizing them with sperm before transferring the embryos into the uterus for greater likelihood of conception.
Women and couples struggling with infertility and going through IUI or IVF cycles often report great stress, anxiety and depression. To that end, individual or couple’s psychotherapy could help individuals and couples through this stressful process by providing emotional support and coping strategies. Joining an infertility support group can teach you skills and allow you to speak to others going through similar experiences.
Frequently Ask Questions
If you’re 35 years of age and under, doctors advise you to try to get pregnant for at least a year before seeking out testing or therapy. If you’re between the ages of 35 and 40, it is recommended you consult your doctor after six months of trying. If you’re over 40, your doctor may recommend immediate testing or reproductive intervention.
In the United States, around 1 in 5 heterosexual women aged 15 to 49 years who have never given birth have fertility issues. In addition, roughly one-fourth of the women in this category (26%) had trouble becoming pregnant or bringing a pregnancy to term. Infertility and fecundity problems are less likely in women who have had one or more previous children.
For men, age is the primary factor that affects their fertility. Couples with a male partner over 40 years old are more likely to report difficulty conceiving. Additional factors include being overweight or obese, smoking, excessive alcohol, and drug use (e.g., opioids, marijuana).
Stress and anxiety are highly correlated with infertility. Your body knows that periods of stress are not ideal for having a baby. In addition, it is possible that stressed women and couples may have sex less often. When a person is stressed, they are more likely to smoke, drink, or consume greater amounts of caffeine, which can interfere with their ability to conceive.
Counseling can help introduce individuals and couples to coping strategies, such as communication, meditation, breathing, and yoga, which can help reduce stress and assist in building a more positive relationship for the couple. Counseling is a gateway into finding support and positive tools to cope with the grief, anger, pain, and loss associated with infertility.
The information on this page, or elsewhere on this site, is not intended to take the place of diagnosis, treatment or informed advice from a qualified mental health professional. You should not take or avoid any action without consultation with the latter.
If you would like to talk to a counselor, please click here.
Female infertility – Symptoms and causes. (2021, August 27). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/female-infertility/symptoms-causes/syc-20354308
Female Infertility: Causes, Risk Factors, Tests & Treatment. (2019, March 11). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17774-female-infertility
Sharon, N. G. (2021, October 9). The Infertility Journal: A Guide for Coping. Shady Grove Fertility. https://www.shadygrovefertility.com/article/coping-with-infertility/
Infertility FAQs (2017, December 5). Center for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/index.htm
Zoll, K. (2018, March 5). Letting Go During Infertility. Seleni – Maternal Mental Health Institute. http://www.seleni.org/advice-support/2018/2/28/letting-go-during-infertility