If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for a while, you may be starting to think about fertility treatment.
Here’s a quick overview of what options are available.
At a glance
- Many drugs and medicines can affect fertility
- Infertility is often a result of issues with ovulation
Finding the cause
Infertility can be caused by many different things. And for 25% of couples – maddeningly - doctors are never able to pinpoint the cause. You may find making lifestyle changes as a couple will make all the difference. But if you want to dig deeper, here’s an overview of the most common causes of infertility affecting women:
Infertility is often caused by problems ovulating – the time an egg is released ready for fertilisation each month. A few key conditions can cause problems:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Thyroid problems - both an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) and an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
- Premature ovarian failure - where a woman’s ovaries stop working before she is 40
Womb and fallopian tubes
Another common problem is when your fallopian tubes or womb are damaged, or stop working. Normally, your egg travels from the ovary down the fallopian tubes, where a waiting sperm happily fertilises it. The embryo then travels into the womb, where it’s implanted into the womb's lining and hopefully continues to grow. But several different factors can damage the womb or fallopian tubes:
- Scarring - from pelvic surgery
- Cervical mucus – when it’s the wrong consistency for sperm to swim through
- Submucosal fibroids - non-cancerous tumours that grow in, or around, the womb
- Endometriosis - a condition where small pieces of the womb lining start growing in other places, like the ovaries, making it harder for eggs to be released and implanted into the womb
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) - an infection of the upper female genital tract, (which includes the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries). Unfortunately scarring can make it difficult for an egg to travel down into the womb
Medicines and drugs
Several drugs or medicines can also affect fertility:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – long term use, or higher doses of NSAIDs, like ibuprofen or aspirin
- Chemotherapy – this can affect ovaries
- Neuroleptic medicines - used to treat psychosis
- Spironolactone - used to treat fluid retention, this medicine can affect fertility short term
- Illegal drugs – like cocaine and marijuana
As you probably know, infertility in women is linked to age, with fertility declining during the mid-thirties. To give you an idea of numbers, among women who are 35, 95% will get pregnant after three years of having regular unprotected sex. While for women aged 38, only 75% will get pregnant in the same time period.
“Try not to worry – sometimes it just takes longer to conceive then you expected,” says Richard Smith, Consultant Obstetrican. “But if you have been trying for a long time, you might want to investigate further. Identifying the cause can certainly bring you closer to finding a solution. So have a chat with your doctor, or fertility expert, about your history to see if you think any of these issues could be causing you problems.”
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for a while and want to investigate your options, check out fertility treatments that help hundreds of couples get pregnant every year.