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Causes of infertility in women
There are many possible causes of infertility. Unfortunately, in about one-third of cases no cause is ever identified.
Problems with ovulation are the most common cause of infertility in women, experts say. Ovulation is the monthly release of an egg. In some cases the woman never releases eggs, while in others the woman does not release eggs during come cycles.
Ovulation disorders can be due to:
- Premature ovarian failure - the woman's ovaries stop working before she is 40.
- PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) - the woman's ovaries function abnormally. She also has abnormally high levels of androgen. About 5% to 10% of women of reproductive age are affected to some degree. Also called Stein-Leventhal syndrome.
- Hyperprolactinemia - if prolactin levels are high and the woman is not pregnant or breastfeeding, it may affect ovulation and fertility.
- Poor egg quality - eggs that are damaged or develop genetic abnormalities cannot sustain a pregnancy. The older a woman is the higher the risk.
- Overactive thyroid gland
- Underactive thyroid gland
- Some chronic conditions, such as AIDS or cancer.
Scientists discover gene that may explain infertility
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh reported in the Journal of Cell Science that they identified a gene that controls a vital process in the formation of healthy fertile eggs.
They say their breakthrough will help researchers better understand how cells divide during reproduction, which in turn will help explain low fertility and sterility.
Problems in the uterus or fallopian tubes
The egg travels from the ovary to the uterus (womb) where the fertilized egg grows. If there is something wrong in the uterus or the fallopian tubes the woman may not be able to conceive naturally. This may be due to:
- Surgery - pelvic surgery can sometimes cause scarring or damage to the fallopian tubes. Cervical surgery can sometimes cause scarring or shortening of the cervix. The cervix is the neck of the uterus.
- Submucosal fibroids - benign or non-cancerous tumors found in the muscular wall of the uterus, occurring in 30% to 40% of women of childbearing age. They may interfere with implantation. They can also block the fallopian tube, preventing sperm from fertilizing the egg. Large submucosal uterine fibroids may make the uterus' cavity bigger, increasing the distance the sperm has to travel.
- Endometriosis - cells that are normally found within the lining of the uterus start growing elsewhere in the body.
- Previous sterilization treatment - if a woman chose to have her fallopian tubes blocked. It is possible to reverse this process, but the chances of becoming fertile again are not high. However, an eight-year study showed tubal reversal surgery results in higher pregnancy and live birth rates and is less costly than IVF.
Some drugs can affect the fertility of a woman. These include:
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) - women who take aspirin or ibuprofen long-term may find it harder to conceive.
- Chemotherapy - some medications used in chemotherapy can result in ovarian failure. In some cases, this side effect of chemotherapy may be permanent.
If radiation therapy was aimed near the womans reproductive organs there is a higher risk of fertility problems.
Some women who take marijuana or cocaine may have fertility problems.