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Houston Fertility Journal

Signs of Infertility in Women: How to Recognize It's Time for Help

[fa icon="calendar"] Sep 20, 2016 10:07:47 AM / by Center of Reproductive Medicine   

Center of Reproductive Medicine

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Struggling to get pregnant can be a frustrating experience, and the questions that can go through your mind can be unnerving. You may have questions like, “is it him?”, “is it me?” and ultimately, “could I be infertile?” It goes without saying that the first commonly accepted sign of infertility in a woman, is the inability to get pregnant after having regular, unprotected sex for at least six months to one year, depending on her age. However, apart from the inability to achieve pregnancy, there are additional signs of infertility in women. Below is a list of the common signs, and if you notice two or more of them, it may be time to seek the help of a fertility specialist.

Signs of Infertility

1. Non-existent or irregular periods

An irregular or absent menstrual cycle can be a telltale sign of infertility problems. In most cases, the typical woman's cycle is 28 days long. Of course, anything within a few days of that average time can be considered reasonable, provided those periods are consistent. For a woman to experience regular periods, her pituitary glands, hypothalamus, along with her ovaries, must work in unison. When these organs don't work together, it causes a hormonal imbalance. It is that hormonal imbalance which may cause a condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a condition in which the small follicles in your ovaries do not develop into mature follicles that can release eggs causing infertility. An absent period could be a result of perimenopause or menopause depending on the woman’s age.

How fertility treatment could help: In the event it is found that you do have PCOS there are medications your doctor can prescribe that assist in the maturation and releasing of the eggs. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Clomiphene, Metformin, Letrozole are the medications that could be prescribed that may help you get pregnant. If these don’t work Gonadotropin hormone shots or ovarian drilling may be additional options.  

2. Incredibly painful or heavy periods

Many women who are infertile sometimes experience a heavy flow, or extreme pain during their period. While this isn't always a sign of infertility, it could be. In some cases the true culprit is endometriosis, a condition often associated with infertility. Endometriosis is an affliction that occurs when the tissue found in the uterus lining, also known as endometrial tissue, grows outside your uterus. When this tissue grows outside of your uterus it's commonly found in the pelvis or abdomen. The additional tissue causes inflammation in your pelvic region and may even lead to a buildup of scar tissue, preventing the sperm from reaching the egg and vice versa. A pelvic exam may be the best first place to start to determine if endometriosis is the cause of your infertility.

How fertility treatment could help: A physician may recommend trying a round or two of intrauterine insemination (IUI) because it’s less invasive but women with endometriosis have proven to respond more favorably to in vitro fertilization (IVF) because the embryo is implanted directly into the uterus, bypassing the inflamed tissue.

3. Unexplained weight gain or loss

When you are gaining or losing weight for no clear reason, and there have been no significant changes to your diet or exercise, there is a chance it's a result of infertility. On the other hand, for some women unexpected weight gain could be caused by PCOS. Many women with PCOS have a significant resistance to insulin, experience hormonal imbalances, and therefore experience weight gain. Unexplained weight loss could be attributed to infection, hyperthyroidism, or a number of other factors.

How fertility treatment could help: There are simple tests your physician can perform to determine if your thyroid could be contributing to your inability to get pregnant. Once the thyroid issues are properly diagnosed, treatment options can be offered.

4. Sudden clumsiness and vision problems

If your vision does not appear as clear as it used to be, you are unexpectedly clumsy, and you experience irregular periods, there could be a prolactinoma causing your infertility. A prolactinoma is a non-cancerous tumor that sits on your pituitary gland. Since this gland produces FSH, or follicle-stimulating hormone, an obstruction here could result in infertility because FSH regulates your egg production and ovaries. If this condition is treated, your periods could return to normal and boost your chances of achieving pregnancy.

How fertility treatment could help: The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says that there are three generally accepted treatments for prolactinomas - medication, surgery and radiation. The goal of all three is to reduce the size of the tumor allowing your reproductive organs to once again function normally.

5. Dramatic decrease in your sex drive

A decrease in your sex drive doesn't necessarily indicate infertility. Women experiencing a decrease in desire could be depressed, stressed out, overworked, etc… However, when combined with one or more of the signs above, it could point to infertility. It is also important to note that for some women, the decrease in sex drive can sometimes be attributed to the pain of sexual intercourse caused by endometriosis, or by the hormonal changes related to aging.

How fertility treatment could help: Your physician can do a pelvic exam to determine if endometriosis is a concern and a simple blood test can address hormonal balances. If the decrease in sex drive is related to your emotional and mental health, however, your physician could refer you to a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist.  

6. Loss of hair, thinning hair, or excess body hair.

Excess hair on your body or face could be a result of PCOS. Thinning or loss of hair on your head could be caused by thyroid dysfunction. To the contrary, one or both of these issues could signify infertility. Without medical examination, the reason for these conditions would be purely speculative.

How fertility treatment could help: Again, determining whether PCOS or thyroid functions are to blame can be discovered through simple examinations and potentially blood tests. Your fertility specialist can help you address these and other factors that could be resulting in your inability to be pregnant.

Next Steps

If you are seeing one or more of the aforementioned signs in yourself, know that not all hope is lost. In fact, there is good news. For most couples, a cause of infertility can be found, and for nearly half of previously infertile couples these causes can be corrected. In other words, once the underlying reasons for your infertility are determined, you have at least a 50% better chance of becoming pregnant. There is bad news as well, unfortunately. The longer you wait to seek help, the harder it may become to get pregnant. Therefore, if there are multiple signs pointing to infertility, you should seek help right away.

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Topics: Infertility, Treatment, Reproductive Specialist

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