The process of starting a family is exciting and the beginning of a new chapter in life. However, over five million Americans struggle with this dream, and they suffer from infertility problems. If you are beginning to think about starting a family, it is smart to think about any potential risk factors that you have for infertility and discuss them with a doctor. The earlier a doctor is able to detect infertility issues on either the male or female side, the issues can be addressed, and possibly treated in order to increase the chances of becoming pregnant.
Health Factors Affecting Fertility
There are some common health issues that can negatively affect a female’s ovulation, conception, or ability to carry a pregnancy to full term.
Body fat: Being over or underweight can be harmful to the reproductive system. Body fat levels that are above normal can cause an excess in estrogen, which disrupts hormones. Alternatively, if body fat is 10 to 15% below normal, the body may not menstruate, which throws off the reproductive system completely.
Hormone imbalance: The endocrine system is crucial in the process of reproduction. If hormones are irregular, it may cause inconsistent menstrual cycles that can have an effect on ovulation.
Autoimmune disease: Diseases that affect the immune system may also interfere with the ability to get pregnant. Some of these diseases include multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid disease.
Certain medications: Some drugs that are used to treat chronic illnesses may interfere with fertility. Medications such as antidepressants, painkillers, antibiotics, and other drugs should be evaluated prior to trying to conceive.
Alcohol and tobacco: Even a moderate amount of alcohol consumed may interfere with fertility. If trying to conceive, smoking should be avoided as it may increase a woman’s risk of infertility.
Occupational or environmental hazards: Certain environmental and emotional stressors can impede the ability to get pregnant. Mental stress, exposure to chemicals, high temperatures, radiation, and heavy electromagnetic emissions may hinder a woman’s ability to get pregnant.
It is also important to discuss multiple miscarriages with your doctor, as this may be a sign of infertility. A history of painful menstrual cycles may be a sign that something is amiss that can also result in infertility.
Endometriosis is responsible for about 5 to 30% of female infertility. This is a condition where tissue that originates in the uterine lining begins to grow outside of the uterus. This may be on the ovaries, on the fallopian tubes, or on the bladder or bowel. There are a few factors that may lead to endometriosis.
The formation of scar tissue creates rigid webs around the reproductive system, which prevents the egg from dropping appropriately from the ovary to the fallopian tube. It is also possible to form endometrial cysts inside the ovaries, which would also prevent the egg from being released properly.
Endometriosis may also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. For a healthy pregnancy, the egg must adhere to the uterine wall in order to receive nutrition and grow. Without this implantation process, the egg doesn’t have any nutrients to survive off of.
Early detection of endometriosis is important for treatment, so it is important to look out for a few factors, including a family history of endometriosis, heavy menstrual flow, painful menstruation, diarrhea, painful bowel movement and painful sex. Some people suffering from endometriosis may not experience any physical symptoms, in which case it can only be diagnosed through a minimally invasive laparoscopy.
Fallopian Tube Disease
Fallopian tube disease is responsible for about one in five cases of infertility. Fallopian tube defects may be caused by multiple issues, such as tubal scarring due to STDs, tubal blockage, pelvic inflammatory disease, as well as certain surgeries. Pelvic surgeries such as removal of ovarian cysts, removal of the appendix, or an ectopic pregnancy may result in difficulties with conception.
It is important to let a doctor know if you have had an STD such as syphilis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia before discussing reproductive options. All pelvic pain should also be discussed, along with atypical vaginal discharge or bleeding.
If deemed necessary, doctors can perform an x-ray test called a hysterosalpingogram that evaluates the overall condition of the fallopian tubes and uterus.
Sexually transmitted diseases
Over 65 million Americans are infected with an STD at any current moment. Some STDs go undetected, due to their lack of symptoms in women. Chlamydia, for example, shows no symptoms in 70% of women. The problem with asymptomatic STDs is that they may lead to infertility without giving the woman a sign that she needs to be treated for a problem. STDs may lead to ectopic pregnancy, tubal scarring, as well as other reproductive problems if they are left untreated. It is important to reduce the risk of STDs to avoid fertility issues.
Always use latex condoms in order to stop the spread of disease. Also, be cautious of being with people who have had multiple sexual partners, as their risk for having an STD is higher. If you believe you may have an STD, early treatment is best, because it may be able to be resolved and then have a lesser likelihood of hurting chances of conception.
Male Fertility Issues
While infertility is most common in women, about 35% of infertility cases are due to an issue with the male. Here are some risk factors that can contribute to male infertility:
Alcohol and Tobacco: Alcohol can not only affect the quantity of sperm, but also the quality. Alcohol can also lower testosterone levels which can ultimately lead to erectile dysfunction. Using tobacco products impairs the sperm’s ability to move, which may keep it from reaching and fertilizing the egg.
Illegal drugs: Similar to alcohol use, illegal drug use can reduce the quantity and quality of sperm, sometimes by up to 50%.
Prescription drugs: Some prescription medications can slow down or even completely halt the production of sperm. Some prescriptions drugs to look out for are those for psoriasis and ulcers.
Toxic substance exposure or hazardous substances can also negatively impact the quantity and quality of sperm, as can exposure to frequent heat. The use of steam rooms, hot tubs, and hot baths should be avoided while trying to conceive.
Men with a history of certain illnesses or diseases such as prostatitis may increase infertility. Other illnesses to be aware of that can hinder conception include genital infection, hernia surgery, mumps after puberty, undescended testicles, or varicocele of the scrotum.