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What Increases Your Risk of Infertility?

From the National Women's Health Information Center

Women

Most cases of female infertility are caused by problems with ovulation. Without ovulation, there are no eggs to be fertilized. Some signs that a woman is not ovulating normally include irregular or absent menstrual periods.

Ovulation problems are often caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormone imbalance problem which can interfere with normal ovulation. PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility. Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) is another cause of ovulation problems. POI occurs when a woman's ovaries stop working normally before she is 40. POI is not the same as early menopause.

Less common causes of fertility problems in women include:

  • Blocked fallopian tubes due to pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, or surgery for an ectopic pregnancy
  • Physical problems with the uterus
  • Uterine fibroids, which are non-cancerous clumps of tissue and muscle on the walls of the uterus
What Increase a Woman's Risk of Infertility?

Many things can change a woman's ability to have a baby. These include:

  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Excess alcohol use
  • Stress
  • Poor diet
  • Athletic training
  • Being overweight or underweight
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Health problems that cause hormonal changes, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome and primary ovarian insufficiency
How Does Age Affect a Woman's Ability to Have Children?

Many women are waiting until their 30s and 40s to have children. In fact, about 20 percent of women in the United States now have their first child after age 35. So age is a growing cause of fertility problems. About one-third of couples in which the woman is over 35 have fertility problems.

Aging decreases a woman's chances of having a baby in the following ways:

  • Her ovaries become less able to release eggs.
  • She has a smaller number of eggs left.
  • Her eggs are not as healthy.
  • She is more likely to have health conditions that can cause fertility problems.
  • She is more likely to have a miscarriage.
Men

Infertility in men is most often caused by:
  • A problem called varicocele (VAIR-ih-koh-seel). This happens when the veins on a man's testicle(s) are too large. This heats the testicles. The heat can affect the number or shape of the sperm.
  • Other factors that cause a man to make too few sperm or none at all.
  • Movement of the sperm. This may be caused by the shape of the sperm. Sometimes injuries or other damage to the reproductive system block the sperm.

Sometimes a man is born with the problems that affect his sperm. Other times problems start later in life due to illness or injury. For example, cystic fibrosis often causes infertility in men.

What Increase a Man's Risk of Infertility?

A man's sperm can be changed by his overall health and lifestyle. Some things that may reduce the health or number of sperm include:

  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Drugs
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Age
  • Environmental toxins, including pesticides and lead
  • Health problems such as mumps, serious conditions like kidney disease, or hormone problems
  • Medicines
  • Radiation treatment and chemotherapy for cancer
Last updated June 28, 2010




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