Female InfertilityInfertility in women is common, characterized by the inability to get pregnant. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive a baby after one year of regular sexual intercourse without birth control. While problems with the male reproductive system can be the reason for one third of infertility cases, another one third of infertility cases are due to issues with the female reproductive system. At least 10% of women deal with infertility and the risk can increase as a woman gets older.
Causes of Female Infertility
It can be difficult to determine what causes infertility in women, but in general, causes can include:
- Ovulation problems that interfere with the normal release of an egg. Hormonal imbalances and substance abuse can lead to ovulation issues.
- Fallopian tube problems that cause blockages and can prevent an egg from entering the uterus for fertilization. Sexually transmitted infections and endometriosis can lead to fallopian tube issues.
- Uterine or cervical problems that can hinder an egg from attaching to the uterine lining. Anatomical abnormalities, polyps, fibroids and abnormalities in cervical mucus can cause uterine and cervical issues.
A number of factors can increase the risk of a woman becoming infertile. One of the biggest factors is age, because fertility typically begins to decline after age 32 for women. This is largely because a woman has fewer overall eggs left as she ages.
Other risk factors for female infertility include:
- Experiencing hormonal imbalances
- Drinking alcohol
- Smoking tobacco or marijuana
- Being overweight or underweight
- Having abnormal menstrual cycles
- Having an eating disorder
- Being exposed to certain chemicals in pesticides and solvents
- Frequently experiencing stress
- Undergoing radiation therapy or chemotherapy for cancer
- A variety of conditions, including endometriosis, uterine fibroids, cysts, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), primary ovary insufficiency (POI), previous ectopic pregnancies and others
Symptoms of Female Infertility
Beyond difficulty conceiving, infertility usually does not cause noticeable symptoms. Certain underlying conditions that lead to infertility may result in symptoms, but in general, women may experience irregular or skipped periods.
Diagnosing Female Infertility
A physical exam, Pap test and pelvic exam may be performed to help diagnose the cause of infertility in women. Other tests may include:
- Blood tests to measure progesterone and prolactin hormone levels
- Ovarian reserve testing to evaluate egg quantity
- Imaging tests such as transvaginal ultrasound, saline sonohysterogram (SIS), hysteroscopy and X-ray hysterosalpingogram (HSG) to look for abnormalities in the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries
Treating Female Infertility
Infertility is common among women and can be treated.
Some common treatment approaches include:
- Medicine to boost fertility or address underlying medical problems
- Surgery to address structural issues such as endometriosis
- Assisted conception, such as intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization
At Tampa General Hospital, our multidisciplinary team includes reproductive endocrinologists who specialize in treating infertility.