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very year, more and more women previously believed to be 'infertile' are giving birth to healthy babies. Infertility treatments are becoming better all the time, providing women and couples with opportunities to procreate that they never had in the past.

Infertility is a term used to describe the inability to conceive a child within a one year time period. Infertility is not the same thing as sterility. If a person is sterile, they cannot conceive. If a woman is infertile, the ability to conceive is present; however pregnancy is prevented from occurring for many possible reasons.

There are a number of potential causes of both female and male infertility. Statistics suggest that approximately 15% of couples are infertile. Of the 15% of infertile couples, male infertility accounts for about 20% of the cases. Female infertility accounts for up to 70% of the cases. This is primarily the result of the complicated processes involved in the female reproductive system.

The majority of infertile women are not aware that they have a problem until they try to become pregnant. Irregular menstrual periods and conditions that cause painful intercourse or menstruation may be the only clues that a problem may be encountered in the future.

Female Infertility Causes

There are many causes of female infertility that include the woman, the man, or both. Some causes of infertility are more of a sexual nature, for example, an inability to get or maintain an erection. Some infections and diseases can also cause infertility.

The most common causes of female infertility are outlined below.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is responsible for 5 to 30% of the cases of female infertility. Endometriosis is a condition where the tissue of the uterine lining is implanted and growing outside of the uterus. It typically grows on the ovaries or on the lining of the abdomen near the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. The result is inflammation and scarring of the tissues of the pelvis.

Tubal Occlusion

Tubal occlusion is the most common cause of female infertility. It is caused by an obstructed fallopian tube which makes it difficult for the fertilized egg to move through the fallopian tube in order to implant in the uterus. Tubal occlusion is frequently caused by pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). The majority of women with pelvic inflammatory disease are unaware that they have it.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome is responsible for under 10% of cases of female infertility. PCOS causes high quantities of androgens (male hormones), especially testosterone, to be produced. This increased androgen production prevents the ovaries from producing a mature egg. The inability to produce an mature egg results in the swelling of the follicles of the ovary with fluid which eventually forms into cysts. PCOS may be the cause of a number of problems that result in menstrual disorders, including amenorrhea (lack of menstruation), and oligomenorrhea (infrequent menses).

Hypothalamic-Pituitary Disorders

Up to 30% of cases of female infertility are due to ovulation disorders. The hypothalamic-pituitary axis is the area of the brain responsible for ovulation. Disruption of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis can result in deficiencies in both follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone.

Elevated Prolactin Levels (Hyperprolactinemia)

The hormone prolactin acts to stimulate the production of breast milk. Elevated levels of prolactin in non nursing or non pregnant can affect ovulation. Some medications can elevate levels of prolactin.

Early Menopause

Early menopause describes premature ovarian failure. Menopause causes the cessation of menstruation and the depletion of ovarian follicles. When this occurs before the age of 40, the condition is called early menopause. Many conditions are linked with early menopause. These include; low levels of certain growth factors that are produced by the ovaries, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and autoimmune disease (where antibodies that attack the ovary).

Luteal Phase Defect

Luteal phase defect is caused by the interferences in the development of the lining of the uterus when preparing for the implantation of a fertilized egg. This is the result of insufficient production of the hormone progesterone.

Benign Uterine Fibroids

Benign tumors can develop in the walls of the uterus, interfering with the shape of the uterine cavity. This causes a blockage of the fallopian tubes or changes in the position of the cervix. The result is that sperm cannot reach the uterus and fertilize an egg. Benign uterine fibroids are especially common in women aged 30 to 40.

Pelvic Adhesions

Abdominal surgery, pelvic surgery, and infections can cause scar tissue to develop. This restricts the movement of the ovaries and fallopian tubes, causing infertility.

Women who believe they may be infertile or have symptoms associated with infertility should consult their physician. Although infertility can make conception more difficult, pregnancy is not out of the question is many cases.
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