If you’re under the age of 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for one year without success ““ or if you’re 35 or older and have been trying for six months to get pregnant without success ““ it’s time you talked to your doctor about infertility.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 percent of women, or 6.1 million women, in the United States between ages 15 and 44 have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant.
It’s a fairly common problem that’s on the rise, said Dr. Abby Loftus-Smith, an OB-GYN with St. Elizabeth Physicians.
“More women are delaying having children,” she said. “They want to finish school and start their careers and have kids later. But as you get older, your ovarian reserve diminishes, so this is becoming an issue.”
A woman’s ovarian reserve refers to the capacity of her ovaries to provide egg cells that are capable of fertilization resulting in a healthy and successful pregnancy.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, about 20 percent of women in the United States now have their first child after age 35. And, about one-third of couples in which the woman is over 35 have fertility problems.
Here are the top three causes of infertility, according to Loftus-Smith:
1. Ovulation disorders
This is when a woman isn’t ovulating as she should, whether it’s because of age ““ again, the older you are, the less likely you are to have viable eggs ““ polycystic ovary syndrome, or some other cause.
Doctors likely will perform tests to check for issues with the thyroid or other hormones that might explain why she isn’t ovulating and then try a medication called clomiphene (Clomid) to help her ovulate regularly.
If Clomid doesn’t work, OB-GYNs typically refer patients to an infertility specialist.
2. Low sperm count or low motility
Not all infertility issues stem from the woman. In fact, about one-third of infertility cases are caused by the woman and another one-third are caused by the man, according to the Office on Women’s Health. The other cases are a mixture of the man and the woman or caused by unknown problems.
Factors that can reduce the health or number of a man’s sperm include heavy alcohol use, drug use, cigarette use, age, environmental toxins, health problems, certain kinds of medications, and radiation/chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
To check to see if the infertility issue lies with the man, doctors usually order a semen analysis.
3. An issue with the fallopian tubes
Blocked fallopian tubes due to pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, or surgery for an ectopic pregnancy can prevent the sperm and egg from meeting, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
To check for this problem, doctors will conduct an X-ray study to see if the fallopian tubes are open or if there are other existing issues that could be getting in the way of pregnancy.
Factors that can increase a woman’s risk of infertility include age, smoking, excessive alcohol use, stress, a poor diet, athletic training, being overweight or underweight, sexually transmitted infections, and health problems that cause hormonal changes.