Female Infertility at a Glance
- There are many ways to test for female infertility.
- Ovulation problems are one common cause of female infertility.
- Treatment is available.
Millions of women face infertility. If you are having trouble getting pregnant or staying pregnant, you are not alone. The good news is that many women with fertility problems go on to have babies.
Whether you are dealing with infertility or are a concerned partner, friend, or family member, you may have many questions. Here are the answers to some questions people commonly ask about infertility.
Worried? Had unprotected sex? We're here to help.
What Is Infertility?
Some women have a hard time getting pregnant or staying pregnant. Infertility is diagnosed when a women tries to get pregnant for a year without success. Women are also considered infertile if they have repeated miscarriages.
More than 1 out of 10 couples experience infertility. Infertility isn’t just a woman’s problem. Men can have fertility problems, too. When a couple is having a hard time getting pregnant, it is just as likely to be caused by a problem with a man’s fertility as it is with a woman’s fertility.
When a couple has a problem achieving pregnancy, it’s estimated that about
- 1 out of 3 times it’s due to a problem with the man’s fertility
- 1 out of 3 times it’s due to a problem with the woman’s fertility
- 1 out of 3 times it’s due to a problem with both the woman’s and the man’s fertility, or a cause cannot be found for the problem
That’s why both the woman and the man usually get tested for fertility problems when a couple is having infertility problems.
When Should I Get Help for Female Infertility?
It can take up to a year for a woman to get pregnant. This is considered normal. Most health care providers suggest a woman try for a year before seeking infertility testing. It is a good idea, though, to go to a health care provider to discuss pre-pregnancy health before starting to try to get pregnant.
Certain health problems can make getting pregnant more difficult. Don’t wait a whole year of trying to get pregnant before talking with your health care provider if you have a history of
- ectopic pregnancy
- irregular periods
- pelvic inflammatory disease
- repeated miscarriages
- thyroid problems
Some health care providers recommend that women over 35 seek infertility testing after six months of trying to get pregnant. Single women and lesbians often seek help as a first step in getting pregnant, too.
What Causes Female Infertility?
Rates of female infertility seem to be on the rise. Experts say one reason is because more women are waiting until they are older to have children. However, infertility can be a problem for any woman. Infertility can affect any woman — younger or older, single or in a relationship with a man or a woman.
There are many reasons a woman might experience infertility. These include
- not ovulating (releasing eggs)
- blocked fallopian tubes so sperm can’t meet the egg
- eggs are poor quality
- shape of the uterus makes it hard for a fertilized egg to implant
In some cases, there is no known reason for someone’s infertility. This is called unexplained infertility. This can be a very frustrating diagnosis. But even if you are diagnosed with unexplained infertility, you still have treatment options to consider.
What Could Increase My Risk of Infertility?
Certain things may increase a woman’s risk of infertility. They include
- a history of STDs or health problems that can cause hormonal changes
- age — being older than 35
- being overweight or underweight
- chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer
- environmental toxins, like lead and pesticides
- excessive drug or alcohol use
- poor diet
- smoking cigarettes
What Kinds of Tests Are Used to Diagnose Female Infertility?
Diagnosing infertility may take several months, so don’t get discouraged if you do not receive an answer quickly. Testing for infertility usually begins with a health care provider doing a physical exam and asking about your medical history.
The physical exam is similar to a regular pelvic exam. Your provider may use an ultrasound to look at your ovaries and uterus. You may also have blood tests to check your hormones. You may need a few blood tests over the course of one menstrual cycle.
Your health care provider may ask you to try to track your ovulation patterns by taking your temperature, checking your cervical mucus, or using home ovulation tests. Ovulation tests are available in most drug stores.
A special test might be done to see if the fallopian tubes are open. For this test — called a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) — the woman is on an exam table. A tube is put into the cervix. A special dye is then pushed through the tube. An x-ray machine is used to see the dye. The provider watches to see it move through the uterus and through the fallopian tubes. This is how you can tell if the tubes are open.
In some cases, minor surgeries are done to take a look inside the body. Special tools are used to check fallopian tubes, ovaries, and the uterus. This helps to find problems like fibroids that might interfere with a pregnancy.
How Is Female Infertility Treated?
Most women who get infertility treatment take medication at some point. The medications are intended to treat hormone and ovulation problems.
There are side effects to taking fertility medications. Be sure to talk with your health care provider about all the possible benefits and risks of any medication you may take.
Medications may be used alone or with other treatments that help the egg and sperm unite. Two of the most common treatments include
- intrauterine insemination (IUI) — Semen is collected from a man. A procedure called “sperm washing” is done to separate the healthy sperm from the rest of the semen. A health care provider puts the sperm directly into the uterus. This puts the sperm closer to the egg. It cuts down the time and distance sperm have to travel to reach an egg. IUI is often referred to as donor insemination, alternative insemination, or artificial insemination.
- in vitro fertilization (IVF) — A woman takes medication to make several eggs ripen. A health care provider removes the eggs. Semen that has been collected from a man is put together with the eggs in a lab. After some eggs have been fertilized, one or more of them is put into the uterus. Pregnancy happens if one or more of them implant in the wall of the uterus.
Your health care provider can help you decide which treatments may work best for you.
Where Can I Get More Information?
You can find lots of useful information about infertility in men and women at RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.
If you have more questions or concerns, staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center or your private health care provider can talk with you and help you get the services you need.
Find Dr. Cullins' Answers to Common Sexual Health Questions
Q&A with Dr. Cullins