Causes of infertility

KEY POINTS

  • Infertility is when you are unable to get pregnant after 1 year of unprotected sex if you are under 35 years of age or after 6 months of unprotected sex if you’re a woman 35 years or older.

  • Infertility affects both men and women and there are many possible factors that may contribute.

In the United States, about 12 to 13 percent of couples have infertility problems. Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant after 1 year of unprotected sex, or after 6 months if you’re a woman 35 years or older. Infertility can cause a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety.

What are some of the causes of infertility?

Infertility affects both men and women.  About one-third of cases are due to female factors, and about one-third are due to male factors. The rest may be caused by a combination of factors or the causes can’t be identified. Many factors can affect fertility, such as:

  • Problems with ovulation. Ovulation is when your ovary releases an egg into your fallopian tubes.
  • Blocked or damaged Fallopian tubes.  This can happen due to a pelvic inflammatory disease (also called PID). PID is an infection of a woman’s reproductive organs, including the uterus (also called womb), fallopian tubes, ovaries and cervix.
  • Endometriosis. This is when tissue from the uterus grows somewhere outside the uterus.
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS happens when you have hormone problems and cysts on the ovaries.  
  • Low sperm count or mobility. This is when a man doesn’t produce enough sperm, or his sperm has problems moving and reaching a woman’s egg.
  • Certain exposures. Smoking, drinking too much alcohol or using drugs can affect your and your partner’s fertility.

What can you do?

If you and your partner have been trying to get pregnant for 3 to 4 months, don’t give up and keep trying. You and your partner may want to schedule a visit with your provider if:

  • You’re younger than 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for at least a year.
  • You’re 35 or older and have been trying to get pregnant for at least 6 months.

Your provider may do some tests to help identify if there’s a problem. You also can talk to your provider about certain lifestyle changes that can help you and your partner lower the risk of having fertility problems.