Fertility can often feel like a bit of a mystery, and you might not give it much thought until you decide you’re ready to start trying for a baby. But whether or not you’ve made that all-important decision, it can be useful to know the facts when it comes to the causes of female infertility.
Infertility sounds like a daunting word, but it’s a term used to describe having trouble conceiving, which is perhaps more common than you might think. Infertility is thought to affect about 19% of reproductive-aged women and 9% of men in the US. It’s estimated that around 1 in 7 couples could have trouble conceiving, which can be an incredibly difficult and stressful experience. However, it’s important to remember that there are numerous treatment options available to help with fertility, and research shows that every fifth couple diagnosed with infertility will go on to conceive without needing any treatment at all. So try to keep that in mind if you’re struggling to conceive.
But what are some of the risk factors and causes of female infertility specifically? We take a closer look at the research and speak to Dr. Ruth Arumala, obstetrician and gynecologist, Texas, US, for some answers.
What is female infertility?
Before we get started, let’s take a quick biology lesson on what infertility involves. According to the World Health Organization, infertility is “a disease of the male or female reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse.”
So essentially, infertility occurs when there is a problem with one (or more) of the stages of the reproductive process. This means that in order for a pregnancy to occur, the following stages all have to happen correctly:
- A mature egg is released from either the left or right ovary. (This is known as ovulation.)
- This egg travels into either the left or right uterine (fallopian) tube.
- A sperm swims through the cervix and uterus and enters the correct uterine tube, and then fertilizes the egg.
- This fertilized egg then moves from the uterine tube into the uterus.
- Finally, the fertilized egg implants in the uterus and grows into a fetus.
In females specifically, there are a number of factors that can affect this process, and we’ll take a closer look at these later on in this article. But it’s important to remember that there are many other causes of infertility — in fact, infertility due to female factors accounts for only one-third of infertile couples. Male factors account for another third, while a combination of male and female factors, or an unknown problem, accounts for the final third. So don’t blame yourself if you initially struggle to conceive, as numerous factors could be at play. And remember, even if your fertility issues are found to be linked specifically to you and your body, try not to be too hard on yourself, as it’s something that’s often totally out of your control.