Understanding Female Fertility
While the amount of women who have children in the U.S. is on the rise, women are now waiting until later in life to start a family. Because of this, many women don’t know of any underlying conditions until trying to get pregnant. But some common conditions come with symptoms that women should know. Here are some of the 3 most common conditions that can affect female fertility.
1. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS affects as many as 5 million women in the U.S., equaling about 6-12% of the female population. The condition is characterized by hormonal imbalances that can cause pelvic pain, thinning hair on the head, acne, and excess hair on the face, chest, or other areas of the body. When a woman has PCOS, ovarian cysts develop. These women are also more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, or gestational diabetes. When testing for PCOS, doctors check if a woman has 2 of the 3 primary symptoms: irregular periods, above-average levels of male hormones, and multiple cysts in the ovaries.
This condition can be frustrating because many women are not aware of an endometriosis diagnosis until trying to conceive. When a woman has endometriosis, the uterine lining, or endometrium, grows outside of the uterus. The lining can grow on the ovaries, behind the uterus, or on the bladder or bowels. While many women have no symptoms of the condition, in some, endometriosis causes pelvic pain and very heavy periods.
3. Uterine fibroids
These fibroids are benign growths in the uterus that can cause reproductive problems. Uterine fibroids can also present with heavy or painful periods, frequent urination, lower back pain, and pain during sex. The cause of these growths is unknown, but risk factors include being overweight or African-African. Some women, however, present no symptoms, underscoring the necessity for regular check-ups with a healthcare provider.
What to expect during testing
Experts recommend women under the age of 35 get fertility testing if there is no pregnancy after 12 months of trying. If women are over the age of 35, women may opt for testing at the 6-month mark. A fertility test will involve a full medical history and evaluation. For women, there is no one best test; however, routine exams include a Pap smear, tests to check ovulation, and tests to check luteinizing hormone (LH) levels.
Seeking infertility treatment
If women do have an underlying condition that has affected fertility, the good news is that there are treatment options. In some cases, treatment of the condition, such as removing fibroids, can make pregnancy possible. In other cases, women may opt to get pregnant with the help of assisted reproductive technology (ART) such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF). For more information, schedule an appointment with a fertility specialist.