Infertility is the diagnosis given to couples who are unable to conceive over the period of one year. When the female partner is unable to conceive, it is termed as female infertility.
Most Common Causes of Female Infertility
The factor causing infertility is different for every couple; however, most of them can be narrowed down to some common causes. Here are some reasons for infertility in females:
1. Ovulation Disorders
Ovulation disorders are characterized by irregular ovulation cycles or the absence of it. It can be caused by improper regulation of reproductive hormones by the pituitary gland. Some ovulation disorders include Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), premature ovarian failure, hypothalamic dysfunction, and excess prolactin.
When the endometrial tissue lining the uterus grows outside, often times in the abdomen or the pelvis, the condition is called endometriosis. This condition can disrupt the fertilized egg from implanting by affecting the uterine lining. Surgical removal of the tissue growth can also interfere with the fallopian tubes and the meeting of the egg and sperm.
3. Fallopian Tube Factors
Damaged or blocked fallopian tubes can stop the sperm from swimming to the egg or totally block the passage of the egg to the uterus. There are several factors that contribute to fallopian tube damage and include pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, previous ectopic pregnancies and resulting surgeries.
4. Uterine or Cervical Problems
There are several conditions associated with the uterus or the cervix that can interfere with implantation or raise the chances of a miscarriage. They include:
- Benign tumours such as fibroids or myomas in the uterus that can block the fallopian tubes.
- Scarring or inflammation in the uterus due to endometriosis that disrupts implantation.
- Abnormalities in the uterus that are present from birth such as unusual shape.
- Narrowing of the cervix or cervical stenosis caused by damage or an inherited malformation
- Thick cervical mucus that doesn’t allow sperm cells to pass through
5. Poor Quality of Eggs
This occurs mostly in older women over the age of 35. The quality and number of eggs produced by the ovaries decline.
6. Unexplained Infertility Causes
When no obvious reason for infertility can be found, the diagnosis is unexplained infertility. Subtle differences in how the reproductive system works may lead to failed reproduction.
Signs and Symptoms of Infertility in Women
These are the most common signs of fertility problems in females:
- Inability to conceive is the main symptom even after trying for more than a year
- Menstrual cycles that are too short (below 21 days) or too long (35 days or more)
Diagnosis and Tests
If you are unable to conceive within a certain period of time, your doctor will prescribe a few tests to diagnosis infertility and the cause behind it. Some of them include:
1. Ovulation Testing
This test measures the levels of hormones that are indicative of ovulation. Predictor kits available at pharmacies can detect a spike in Luteinising Hormone (LH) that is seen before ovulation. Blood tests are done to check the levels of progesterone that comes after ovulation. Other hormones such as prolactin may also be checked.
It’s a procedure that involves the examination of the reproductive organs using X-rays or ultrasound. A special dye or saline and air are injected into the cervix which will travel through the fallopian tubes. The imagery obtained can highlight abnormalities or blockages in the fallopian tubes.
Laparoscopic examinations are used when further confirmation is required. A thin optical tube is passed into the organs through a small incision, which gives a view of what is inside. It can detect blockages or irregularities in the fallopian tubes or scarring by endometriosis.
Female Infertility Treatment
The course of treatment for infertility depends on factors such as age, cause, personal preferences and how long you have been infertile. Since infertility is complicated, several types of treatments may be needed in some cases. The goal of the treatments would be to restore fertility or help you conceive through some sophisticated procedures. They are as follows:
- In women with infertility caused by ovulation disorders, fertility drugs may be prescribed to stimulate or regulate ovulation cycles. The drugs work similar to natural hormones such as Luteinizing hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) to trigger ovulation. The drugs can also be used by older women to help produce a better quality egg or increase the number of eggs.
- A number of surgical procedures are available to correct problems that cause infertility in women. Laparoscopic surgery is used to correct or remove abnormalities in the reproductive organs and improve chances of conception. The surgery can remove fibroids or endometrial polyps that interfere with conception. Blockage in fallopian tubes can be corrected with tubal surgeries to improve fertility. It’s important to note that surgical treatments have gone down in popularity due to the success rates of other treatments.
- Intrauterine insemination is another procedure where millions of healthy sperm is placed into the uterus during the time of ovulation. It is also done in conjunction with medication that triggers ovulation.
- In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is a sophisticated assisted reproductive technology which retrieves mature eggs from the woman and fertilizes them with sperm cells in a lab. The fertilized eggs are then introduced into the uterus for implantation. Some of the embryos can also be saved for later use upon the consent of the couple.
- Egg donation is a procedure that can help if you have a well functioning uterus but the ovaries have problems. Egg from a donor is removed and fertilized in vitro to be transferred into your uterus.
When discussing infertility in females, you should know that not only is it the inability to conceive after one year of trying but also the inability to maintain a pregnancy till childbirth.
- The Indian Ginseng or ashwagandha is a herb that has been used for hundreds of years by women who have had difficulty in conceiving. It maintains hormonal balance and promotes reproductive function. Drink 1 tablespoon of ashwagandha mixed with warm milk twice a day.
- Pomegranate is a fertility booster in women. It is loaded with essential nutrients and antioxidants that help maintain the uterine lining and improve blood flow. To enhance fertility, drink half a teaspoon of finely powered seeds and bark of the fruit with a glass of milk twice a day.
- Cinnamon is known to be helpful in treating conditions such as polycystic ovarian disorder. As PCOD is one of the leading causes of infertility, women suffering from it can heal naturally using cinnamon. The herbal powder can be had in food or 1 teaspoon mixed with a glass of milk.
- Chasteberry tea is beneficial to treat infertility caused by PCOS. Prepare the tea by boiling 1 teaspoon of dried chaste berries in a cup of water. Strain the mixture and drink the tea one a day for a few weeks. Chasteberry is also available in the form of supplements.
- Dates are loaded with essential vitamins and minerals needed by women to conceive and nourish the fetus throughout pregnancy. Have 6 to 8 dates every day as a snack. You can also add them to your milk, smoothies or yoghurt.
- The maca root is another effective herb used to treat infertility in both men and women. The herb promotes hormone production and is especially beneficial for women who suffer from hypothyroidism as it is known to promote thyroid function. Drink half a teaspoon of the maca root powder mixed with a glass of milk once a day for a few months.
- Vitamin D deficiency is common and leads to infertility and miscarriages. It is essential for the metabolism of calcium in the body making it one of the critical nutrients. Vitamin D is naturally synthesised by your body by exposure of your skin to sunlight. Every morning, spend 10 minutes standing in the sun to boost your vitamin D levels. Also eat foods rich in vitamin D such as cheese, eggs, fish and fortified cereals.
- Banyan tree root is an Ayurvedic remedy to treat infertility in women. Finely chop the roots of the banyan tree and dry them in the sun for a few days. Grind the roots into a fine powder and store in an airtight jar. Every day mix 1 tablespoon of the root powder with a glass of milk and drink for a few months.
- Yoga is an effective treatment for women with infertility problems. It helps improve blood flow to all the vital organs and promotes glandular functioning. There are specific postures that are highly beneficial for fertility such as Hastapadasana (forward bend from a standing position), Paschimottanasana (forward bend from a seated position), and Badha Konasana (butterfly exercise).
- A balanced diet is key to ensure the body is supplied with all the vital nutrients to maintain fertility and have a healthy pregnancy.
Infertility caused by genetic factors or certain illnesses cannot be prevented, however, lifestyle-related causes can be taken care of by the following measures:
- Practice safe sex to avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
- Quit smoking or using any illicit drugs.
- Cut down on heavy alcohol consumption or quit it entirely.
- Maintain good personal hygiene and form healthy habits.
- Visit your gynaecologist regularly especially if you are sexually active.
How to Deal With Infertility?
It is emotionally and physically exhausting to have to deal with infertility. Consider these tips to cope during your treatment phase:
- The uncertainty of testing and treatments can be unnerving. Request your doctor to explain the procedure to you so you understand how it goes. Knowing about it helps in easing anxiety.
- Seek support from your partner, close family, friends or a support group with similar issues. Talking about your insecurities and concerns will help you relax and gain confidence.
- Maintain good health through a balanced diet and exercise.
- Consider every option and have alternatives such as adoption, donor eggs or sperm and even not having children. These will lower anxiety during your fertility treatments.
When To Consult a Doctor?
It’s important to contact your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Abnormal menstrual bleeding
- Pain in the abdomen
- Fever associated with other symptoms
- Unusual discharge
- Discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse
- Itching or soreness around the vagina
Female infertility can be caused by various factors such as genetics, illnesses of certain kinds and lifestyle-related health problems. With treatments and lifestyle changes, it is possible to regain fertility and conceive.