Infertility is defined as the condition wherein a couple has been trying to get pregnant through frequent intercourse for at least a year, but has been unsuccessful in doing so. When the cause of infertility exists within the female partner, it is termed as female infertility.
Infertility is estimated to affect as many as 186 million people all over the world. It is estimated that infertility affects every 1 out of 6 couples all over the world, 47 percent of which is due to female infertility.
Symptoms of female infertility
The main symptom of infertility is the inability to get pregnant. A menstrual cycle that is too short (less than 21 days) or too long (over 35 days), absent or irregular can mean that you are not ovulating.
When to seek medical aid:
• Up to 35 years of age – you are in the prime and ripe child bearing age at this time. It is recommended that you try getting pregnant for at least a year before opting for testing or treatment for infertility
• Between 35 and 40 years of age – you do not want to be too late and cross over the prime childbearing age. It is recommended that you consult your doctor after six months of trying to get pregnant.
• Over 40 years of age – you must consult a doctor immediately, who will most likely want to start treatment for infertility right away.
Causes of female infertility
The following are essential factors for a woman to become pregnant:
• Appropriate and adequate ovulation
• Healthy partner’s sperm
• Regular unprotected intercourse, especially during fertile periods
For a pregnancy to occur, every step of the human reproductive system must occur correctly and at the correct time. The steps in this process include the following:
• One or both ovaries must release a mature egg
• This egg must be picked up by the fallopian tube
• Sperm must swim up through the uterus, into the fallopian tube and up the cervix in order to reach the egg for fertilization.
• This fertilised egg must then travel down the fallopian tube to the uterus.
• Once there, the fertilized egg must implant itself into the uterus and grow there.
Any part of this process that fails to occur can be the reason behind the infertility.
Female infertility can be caused by any of the following factors :
• Ovulation disorders
◦ PCOS: a hormonal imbalance is caused by PCOS which affects ovulation. Associated with obesity, abnormal hair growth on the face and acne, PCOS is the most common cause for infertility in women.
◦ Premature ovarian failure: this disorder is usually caused by an autoimmune response and loss of eggs from your ovaries.
• Damage to the Fallopian tube
Damaged or blocked fallopian tubes due to the following conditions may lead to female infertility:
◦ Pelvic inflammatory disease
◦ Pelvic tuberculosis
A condition that occurs when extra tissue grows in the uterus and plants itself in other locations. The removal of this extra tissue by surgery can cause scarring, thus blocking the fallopian tube and preventing the fertilization of the egg.
• Uterine causes
◦ Congenital uterine abnormalities
◦ Cervical stenosis caused by an inherited malformation
◦ Benign polyps in the uterus
◦ Failure of the uterus to produce the best type of mucus in order to allow the sperm to travel through the cervix into the uterus.
Risk factors that put you at an increased risk of infertility
The most common risk factors that put you at a higher risk of infertility include the following:
• Age: post the age of 35 years, the quality and quantity of a woman’s eggs decline. The rate of follicle loss speeds up, resulting in the production of eggs that are poorer in quality and lesser in number. This makes the ability of conception weaker. It also increases your chances of suffering through a miscarriage.
• Smoking: smoking not only affects your fallopian tubes as well as your cervix, but also increases your chances of a miscarriage. It also prematurely ages your ovaries, thus leading to lesser chances of becoming pregnant.
• Sexual history: a history of sexually transmitted diseases can drastically reduce your chances of getting pregnant. It is thus always advised to practice protected sex when you do not plan on getting pregnant.
• Alcohol: excessive consumption of alcohol has also been linked to decreased chances of pregnancy. Stick to moderate levels of alcohol consumption, preferably no more than one medium sized serving of no more than one alcoholic drink per day.
• Weight: maintaining a healthy BMI is vital to get pregnant. A healthy BMI ensures your likelihood of pregnancy by increasing the frequency of ovulation, apart from offering a hospitable environment for the growth of the foetus.
Treatment of female infertility
• Taking medications to stimulate ovulation
• Making use of supplements to enhance fertility
• Taking hormone balancing medication courses in order to regulate ovulation and menstrual cycle
• Taking follicle stimulating hormone in order to stimulate a better egg or increase the production of eggs by the ovaries
Prevention of female infertility
• Quit smoking: tobacco has numerous negative effects on your health, not to mention the reduction of fertility. If you are trying to get pregnant, quit smoking, today!
• Reduce alcohol intake: alcohol consumption may lead to decreased fertility.
• Limit caffeine consumption: caffeine consumption of more than 200 milligrams per day can hamper your ability to get pregnant.
• Maintain a healthy body weight: underweight and overweight women generally experience difficulties in getting pregnant owing to their body’s ill health.