Fertility: Know Your Risk Factors

Fertility is affected by a variety of factors, including age, genetics and diseases. These risk factors can commonly have a negative impact on fertility, and it’s important to address them if you’re having trouble conceiving. If any of these risk factors apply to you, be sure to tell your doctor. They can be managed, and in many cases, treatments are available to restore fertility.

Age
As a woman ages, her fertility decreases. Women in their early 20s are less likely to have issues with fertility, but women in their late 30s may be up to 30 percent less fertile. Even if you didn’t experience difficulty conceiving when you were younger, you may as you age. It’s recommended that women over 30 consult a doctor if they’re unsuccessful after trying to conceive for six months.

Health Factors
In addition to age, other general health factors can have an impact on fertility. For example, excessive or low body fat is known to interfere with ovulation, which can lead to difficulty conceiving.
Additionally, chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, asthma, hypertension and hyper- or hypothyroidism and associated prescription medications can harm fertility. If you’re being treated for any of these conditions, let your doctor know.
Environmental factors that endanger your health can also endanger your fertility. Cigarettes and alcohol, in addition to being dangerous while a woman is pregnant, can make it difficult for her to become pregnant. Be wary of workplace toxins or dangerous conditions.
While these health factors often have side effects that decrease fertility, other health factors have a more direct impact. If you had an abnormal Pap smear that required treatment, you may have difficult conceiving. You may also have difficulty if you experience hormonal imbalances, which may also result in periods longer than six days and cycles shorter than 24 days or longer than 35 days. Other indications of a hormonal imbalance include very heavy periods, excessive body hair, or unpredictable cycles.

Doctors also warn that women who have experienced two or more miscarriages are more likely to suffer from fertility problems. They’re also at a higher risk for future miscarriages.

STDs
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are transmitted more easily to women. Additionally, women suffer from resulting complications at a higher rate than men. These STDs can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause scarring, miscarriages and blocked tubes. Additionally, they increase the risk of ectopic pregnancies. In rare cases, STDs case permanent infertility.
These risks can be reduced significantly by taking precautions. Monogamous relationships have the lowest risk of infection when both partners are uninfected. Latex condoms can prevent the transmission of STDs when used for contraception. Finally, frequent testing and early treatment can limit the complications from STDs. If treatment is necessary, it’s important that both partners receive simultaneous treatment.

Tubal Disease
As many as 20 percent of infertility cases are caused by disease of the fallopian tubes. Risk factors include STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, using an IUD for contraception and multiple abortions. Women who have undergone pelvic surgery to address an ectopic pregnancy or ovarian cyst are at an increased risk, as are women who have experienced pelvic pain, unusual vaginal bleeding, vaginal discharge or fever.

Endometriosis
Endometriosis runs in families, which means you may be at an increased risk if your mother or sisters experienced any symptoms or were diagnosed. These are the symptoms:
Heavy menstrual flow
Painful cramps, especially if they become worse over time
Pain while having sex
Painful bowel movements or diarrhea, especially on or around periods
This disease can affect menstruating women regardless of age. It occurs when uterine tissue is found elsewhere in the body, including on ovaries and fallopian tubes. There’s not a clear understanding of the link between endometriosis and infertility, but early detection offers the greatest chance of preserving fertility.

Because early detection is so important, make sure you let your doctor know if you or your female relatives have experienced any of the symptoms.