Infertility is defined as the inability to achieve pregnancy after 12 or more months of sexual intercourse without the use of contraceptives. Infertility is a common condition that affects 1 in 8 couples each year in the United States. Many people don’t realize how common fertility issues are. This causes many people to not be aware of the risk factors for infertility. Knowing and understanding the risk factors is a critical step in family planning. When individuals take a proactive approach and learn what issues they could face while trying to start a family, they have time to prepare and seek out professional help. Unfortunately, people often wait a year before seeking medical attention. Age is a crucial factor in reproductive health and every year counts. This guide will help you understand the risk factors that could lead to infertility.
Age is the biggest factor in a woman’s ability to get pregnant and have a healthy baby. A recent study showed that fertility tests can’t reliably predict the fertility of a woman later on in life. Starting at age 32 a woman’s fertility steadily decreases and by age 40 her fertility has declined by half. A healthy woman at age 30 has a 20% chance each month to get pregnant while a woman who is 40 only has a 5% chance.
When a woman ages her egg quality also declines. Because of this, older women have higher risks of pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, placenta abruption, and stillbirth. A woman who is over 35 years old is almost 2.5 times more likely to have a stillbirth than a younger woman. Once a woman reaches the age of 40, the chance of a miscarriage is greater than the chance of a live birth. Women who become pregnant at an older age should monitor their pregnancy, as they are more likely to have a child with birth defects or genetic abnormalities.
Reproductive age is often measured by a woman’s levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). A high FSH (measured on days 2 to 5 of the period) indicates that the ovary is requesting higher levels of FSH, signaling the eventual end of a woman’s reproductive life. A non-surgical therapy to decrease FSH and increase pregnancies in older women has shown promising results.
Low Body Fat
Studies have shown that women with a low body mass index (BMI) often struggle with infertility. Low BMI is the cause of 12% of all infertility cases. Body fat plays a very important role in a woman’s reproductive system. Sex hormones are stored in body fat and without enough body fat, women can have a reduced amount of estrogen. Too little estrogen can cause amenorrhea which is the lack of a menstrual cycle.
High Body Fat
A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered “overweight” and a BMI over 30 is considered “obese.” Obesity can cause hormone imbalances that cause problems with ovulation. Obesity increases pregnancy complications and health issues for the baby. Risks associated with obesity are miscarriage, hypertension, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, blood clots, required induction of labor, and stillbirth. Women who are overweight or obese have less of a chance of getting pregnant overall and they are more likely to take over a year to become pregnant than women at a healthy weight. The risk of pre-eclampsia is 2 times higher in overweight women and 3 times higher in obese women. Overweight women are 2 times more likely to develop gestational diabetes and obese women are 8 times more likely. A woman who is obese is more than 2 times as likely to have a miscarriage compared to a woman of healthy weight.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
There are 12,000,000 new cases of STDs each year in the United States. STDs can often be asymptomatic, meaning they don’t produce any symptoms and people are unaware they have contracted one. STDs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease. Previous STDs can cause significant complications in a woman’s reproductive system. Some complications include scarring, miscarriage, adhesions, blocked fallopian tubes, and ectopic pregnancy (when a pregnancy occurs outside of the uterus).
Diseased or Blocked Fallopian Tubes
About 20% of all infertility cases are caused by fallopian tube disease. STDs are a major cause of tubal disease. Common causes of fallopian tube disease are gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia. A hydrosalpinx is when a fallopian tube is blocked and filled with fluid. Pelvic inflammatory disease or other infections can often cause a hydrosalpinx.
Because fallopian tubes often re-close after surgical repair, many reproductive physicians recommend removing the problem tube(s) and moving directly to in vitro fertilization (IVF). This procedure generally involves pharmaceutical treatment along with minimally invasive surgeries to extract, nurture, and then re-introduce the egg into the woman’s reproductive tract.
A new non-surgical therapy, the Clear Passage Approach, has been shown to open tubes naturally with a unique therapy designed to detach the adhesions blocking the tube. The therapy, which can feel like a deep massage, opened tubes in 69% of women who had never had surgery on their tubes, and 35% for those who had undergone prior tubal surgery.
Adhesions are internal scars (scar tissue) that can form throughout the body. Adhesions form after surgery, trauma, infection, inflammation, or radiation therapy. A woman with a past medical history including one or more of those events is likely to have adhesions. Adhesions affect the mechanical function of a woman’s reproductive system and are a major cause of blocked fallopian tubes, intercourse pain, and pelvic pain. Many people have adhesions without realizing it. We encourage you to read more about adhesions to find out if you are at risk for infertility.
Endometriosis is a condition that causes uterine tissue to form outside of the uterus. The tissue can grow on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, or bowel. The connection between endometriosis and infertility is not clearly understood, but there are indications that adhesions forming at the site of endometrial implants can negatively impact a woman’s fertility. Symptoms of endometriosis include extremely painful menstrual cramps, heavy menstrual flow, diarrhea or painful bowel movements during your period, and painful sexual intercourse. Endometriosis appears to be passed down genetically, so if a woman has relatives with endometriosis she is at risk.
Overall Health Risk Factors
- Chronic diseases including diabetes, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, arthritis, hypertension, and asthma
- Hormonal imbalances or irregular periods
- PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
- Multiple prior miscarriages
- Environmental/dietary risks include smoking, alcohol, large amounts of caffeine or an unhealthy diet
Take Control of Your Fertility
If you fall into one or more of these risk factor categories, now is the time to act. Too often people take their fertility for granted and only when they are trying to become pregnant do they find out they are infertile. Get a head start on your fertility. There are natural treatment options that can increase your chances of becoming pregnant before trying surgery, IVF, or fertility drugs.
Talk to your doctor about any risk factors you have and how you can minimize their impact on your fertility or what you can do to prevent them. When it comes to infertility, always remember you are not alone and you have options.
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