Health Problems that can affect Fertility

Couples can have fertility problems because of health problems, in either the woman or the man. Common problems with a woman's reproductive organs, like uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and pelvic inflammatory disease can worsen with age and also affect fertility. These conditions might cause the fallopian tubes to be blocked, so the egg can't travel through the tubes into the uterus. They can also cause a woman's pelvis to become a relatively unhealthy place for the egg, sperm and embryos, resulting in infertility.

Some people also have diseases or conditions that affect their hormone levels, which can cause infertility in women and impotence and infertility in men. Polycystic Ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one such hormonal condition that affects many women, and is the most common cause of anovulation, or when a woman rarely or never ovulates. Another hormonal condition that is a common cause of infertility is when a woman has a luteal phase defect (LPD). The luteal phase is the time in the menstrual cycle between ovulation and the start of the next menstrual period, or the second half of the menstrual cycle. LPD is a failure of the uterine lining to be fully prepared for a fertilized egg to implant there. This happens either because a woman's body is not producing enough progesterone, or the uterine lining isn't responding to progesterone levels at some point in the menstrual cycle. Since pregnancy depends on a fertilized egg (embryo) implanting in the uterine lining, LPD can interfere with a woman getting pregnant and with carrying a pregnancy successfully.

Certain lifestyle choices also can have a negative effect on a woman's fertility, such as smoking, alcohol use and weighing much more than an ideal body weight. Other factors include weighing much less than an ideal body weight, a lot of strenuous exercise, and having an eating disorder. These factors can trigger a woman's brain to stop her ovulation during a time of high energy output or low nutrition input. These conditions are interpreted by the brain (the hypothalamus) as a poor time to conceive, and brain chemicals essential for ovulation (gonadotropins) are suppressed until a more plentiful time.

Unlike women, some men remain fertile until they are 60 or 70 years old. But as men age, they might begin to have problems with the shape and movement of their sperm, and have a slightly higher risk of sperm gene defects. They also might produce no sperm, or too few sperm. Lifestyle choices also can affect the number and quality of a man's sperm. Alcohol and drugs can temporarily reduce sperm quality. And researchers are looking at whether environmental toxins, such as pesticides and lead, also may be to blame for some cases of infertility. Men also can have health problems that affect their sexual and reproductive function. These can include sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), diabetes, surgery on the prostate gland, or a severe testicle injury or problem. If you or your partner have a problem with sexual function or libido don't delay seeing your doctor for help.

Information is provided by: The National Women's Health Information Center which is Sponsored by the Office on Women's Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services