Infertility among Women
- Around 25% of women experience infertility - and the numbers are growing
- Ovulation disorders form 30% of female infertility
- The 20s are the ideal child-bearing years for women
While infertility can be difficult for men too, it's often more so for women. And women tend to feel more stressed about infertility. They worry more about it - and it's usually never far from their thoughts.
Understanding Female Infertility
It is roughly estimated that about 25% of women experience infertility during their reproductive years - and the numbers are growing. Female infertility is caused by a host of factors - many of which can be effectively treated.
It has been estimated that in about 30% of infertile women, there is failure to ovulate. This could happen when:
- The egg does not mature or is not released from the follicle
- An under-active thyroid gland disrupts the hormonal system leading to problems with ovulation
- Due to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome - the 'cysts' (small capsules of fluid or fat) on the ovaries secrete hormones, leading to hormone imbalance, which affects fertility
Damaged Fallopian Tubes
After the egg has been released from the ovary, it must travel through the fallopian tubes to be fertilized. One of the most common reasons for fertility problems in women is that these tubes are damaged. This could be caused by:
- A past infection
- Previous surgery in the pelvic area, which has left adhesions and scarring
- Endometriosis, a condition where endometrial cells, which usually only line the walls of the uterus, grow elsewhere within the pelvis. These cells can form swellings or adhesions over the ovaries and uterus and can cause blockage of the fallopian tubes.
Any blockage of the fallopian tubes, or damage to the delicate membranes within the tubes, can severely reduce fertility.
Fertility declines with age as the 20s are the ideal child-bearing period. As a woman ages, her eggs are more likely to contain chromosomal or chemical abnormalities, rendering fertilisation impossible.
The sperm must be able to get through the woman's cervical mucus. Sometimes, it seems, the body chemistry isn't right:
- The acid secretions of the vagina may 'kill off' the sperm on their journey to the egg
- The woman's cervical mucus can remain too thick for the sperm to get through
- Both men and women can have immune reactions to sperm, and produce antibodies to it. Little is known about how prevalent a problem this is, although it is one of the most promising areas of current research.
Problems in the womb
Even after fertilisation is achieved, there can be problems that prevent the egg embedding:
- Low progesterone levels can prevent the endometrium developing enough for an embryo to implant
- Occasionally physical abnormalities in the uterus (such as fibroids) prevent successful implantation
Without thorough investigation, it is impossible to tell the exact reason why a couple might not be conceiving. However, the range of possible causes of infertility among women can be treated effectively.