The medical definition of infertility is the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected regular intercourse. Many couples don’t notice their fertility problems until they try, and fail, to get pregnant because most signs of infertility are difficult to detect. However, it helps to watch out for some factors that could mean that infertility may be a concern if you are planning to get pregnant. Ask yourself or your partner the following questions before spending a year trying to conceive. If any of these are relevant for you, it’s best to address the issue as soon as you can.
Is your menstrual cycle regular?
Irregular menstrual cycles are the first red flag for female fertility problems. Although cycle lengths vary from woman to woman, you need to visit your gynecologist if your cycle is consistently too short (less than 24 days) or too long (over 35 days). The absence of a monthly period is also a cause for alarm. But the occasional late period is nothing to worry about; once in a while, women experience delayed menstrual cycles due to stress and other extraneous factors.
How heavily or lightly do you bleed?
Menstrual bleeding usually lasts three to seven days and involves slight to moderate cramping and bleeding. But if your period causes so much blood loss and pain that you can’t go to work, you should take time to see your doctor. Heavy and painful bleeding can be a symptom of polycystic ovarian syndrome, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, or pelvic inflammatory disease – conditions that can spell infertility problems for women. You should also watch out if the blood flow changes drastically from cycle to cycle, e.g. heavy bleeding last cycle, light bleeding this cycle.
Are you older than 35?
Sperm cells and egg cells age along with the body, which is why fertility in men and women starts to decline rapidly after age 35. As a woman nears menopause, her ovaries become less responsive to the hormones that stimulate ovulation. The remaining eggs are also likely to have genetic defects, causing an increased risk for Down ’s syndrome or miscarriage. In males, low semen quantity has been observed as they near age 55. The genetic quality of sperm cells is also affected by age, leading to an increased risk of miscarriage, birth defects, and decreased fertility. Despite these setbacks, many couples older than 35 have successfully gotten pregnant through timed intercourse or artificial reproductive technologies. If you still have trouble conceiving after six months of unprotected intercourse, talk to your doctor and ask about your options. The sooner you seek medical help, the better your chances for a successful conception.
Is there a presence of sexual dysfunction?
The symptoms of male infertility are hardly ever obvious; it usually takes a sperm analysis for a couple to detect male factor infertility. However, signs of sexual dysfunction in your partner could suggest a fertility problem. If premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, or loss of interest in sex is a constant problem in bed, your partner could be suffering from an underlying fertility problem.
Are you overweight or underweight?
Fertility problems can be aggravated by unhealthy weight. Fertility experts observed that women with regular cycles and no other obvious signs of infertility have difficulty getting pregnant if they are obese or overweight. Being overweight could also be a symptom of an underlying fertility disorder, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is characterized by trouble losing excess weight.
Do you or your partner have chronic illnesses? What medications are you taking for them?
Common chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, hyperthyroidism, and their treatments can aggravate infertility. Thyroid hormones and insulin shots can cause irregular cycles, while a medicine for peptic ulcers can cause problems with sperm production. If you are taking medications for a chronic illness, find out if their side effects may have a negative impact on your fertility. Talk to your doctor and ask about other medicines or fertility-friendly alternative treatments you can take instead.