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What causes infertility in women?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Infertility can be caused by many conditions that affect the fallopian tubes, hormones or any other part of ovulation. Infections such as chlamydia may damage the fallopian tubes, making it impossible for the fertilized egg to travel to the uterus. Endometriosis and uterine fibroids also cause infertility. Hormone problems, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, overproduction of prolactin and early menopause may also lead to infertility in women. Sometimes, infertility may be caused by environmental factors like taking certain medications or drinking too much caffeine. Often, no clear cause can be found for the infertility.

Here are some top causes of infertility in women:

  • Ovulation problems: Ovulation issues may be caused by polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. Primary ovarian insufficiency (also known as premature ovarian failure, or POI) can also cause ovulation problems. Hyperprolactinemia is where women have too much prolactin, the hormone that stimulates breast milk, and that may also interfere with ovulation. Thyroid issues—like too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism)—can affect the menstrual cycle, too.
  • Older age: The mere act of waiting to get pregnant contributes to infertility. About one-third of couples in which the woman is over 30 have fertility problems. Time and biology are on a woman's side during her 20s. At this stage, the body is ready for pregnancy.
  • Endometriosis: With endometriosis, the tissue lining the uterus starts to grow in other places like behind the uterus, in the fallopian tubes, in the abdomen, in the pelvis or the ovaries. That causes irritation and scar tissue development, making it difficult to get pregnant.
  • Unhealthy bodyweight: Keeping an inactive lifestyle and being overweight or obese can raise the risk of infertility and increase the risk of miscarriage. An eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia or following a very low-calorie or restrictive diet, increases the risk for fertility problems.
  • Abnormal cervical mucus: Cervical mucus, a fluid secreted by the cervix when estrogen stimulates production, allows sperm to survive in the hostile, acidic environment of the vagina. Abnormal cervical mucus can prevent sperm from reaching the egg.
  • Tubal issues: Damaged or blocked fallopian tubes can prevent sperm from getting to eggs and prevent the fertilized egg from getting to the uterus.
  • Uterine abnormalities: Fibroids may interfere with the implantation of the fertilized egg. Fibroids may be associated with reproductive problems depending on the number of fibroids in the uterus and on their size and specific location. Fibroids near the endometrial lining may cause very heavy periods and problems with an embryo implanting or pregnancy complications.
  • Male reproductive issues: One-third of infertility cases are caused by male reproductive issues. Some reasons include infections that interfere with sperm production or sperm health, ejaculation issues, tumors, hormone imbalances and certain medications.

This content originally appeared on HealthyWomen.org.

Continue Learning about Female Infertility

How Will My OB/GYN Treat Infertility?
How Will My OB/GYN Treat Infertility?
What Are the Treatment Options for Infertility in Women?
What Are the Treatment Options for Infertility in Women?
How Does Endometriosis Affect Fertility?
How Does Endometriosis Affect Fertility?
What Health Risks Are Associated with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?
What Health Risks Are Associated with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.