Medical conditions that affect female fertility

If you’ve tried everything, a doctor could help

As useful as the different sections of this website are, the advice we’ve given you may prove ineffective if underlying medical conditions are affecting your fertility. Most people have heard of conditions such as endometriosis, but there are a number of others that could be hindering your attempts at having children.

Medical conditions associated with female fertility

Endometriosis

Endometrial tissue from the womb lining migrate to other parts of the body and can be found on ovaries, fallopian tubes and other organs outside of the uterus.  Each month this tissue responds to the female hormone cycle by thickening and bleeding, causing pain, inflammation and disrupting ovulation.

Can it be treated?

Currently, there is no cure for endometriosis but it can be treated to improve your chances of conceiving. The best treatment for you will depend on your age, physical health and desire to conceive in future. Many of the treatments aim to reduce the pain and discomfort but some hormone-based treatments will limit or stop your body’s natural production of hormones (oestrogen), which can affect your chances of having children. Surgery may be an option if there is a good chance of successfully treating the symptoms and effects of endometriosis.

For about 3 in every 10 cases of endometriosis the effects and symptoms can sometimes disappear without treatment, but if symptoms persist or get worse then you should inform your doctor.

Uterine fibroids

What are they?

Non-cancerous tumours that can cause problems if they are too close to the lining of the womb. Fibroids often go undetected because of the unremarkable nature of their symptoms (heavy periods, back and tummy pain, constipation, discomfort during sex). They are fairly common (1 in 3 women develop them at some stage) and often have a minimal effect on fertility.

Can they be treated?

Fibroids often require no treatment at all, unless they are causing the kind of significant discomfort that calls for pain relief. They usually shrink over time and pose little risk to women over the age of 50 and those who have gone through the menopause. If they are considered to be dangerous or large enough to pose a risk to your health and fertility, a form of surgical or non-surgical treatment may be required.

Endometrial polyps

What are they?

Fleshy growths that protrude into the womb cavity. Endometrial polyps stop eggs from implanting in the womb and should be removed once discovered. They are often non-cancerous growths but can become cancerous if left untreated.

Can they be treated?

Medication can be used to relieve the pain and discomfort caused by endometrial polyps, but they often cause heavy menstrual bleeding and should be removed to reduce the risk of them becoming cancerous.

Pelvic inflammatory disease

What is it?

A form of infection that affects the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries. PID is often caused by sexually transmitted infections and is therefore more common in younger women. Older women can still get PID through a normal bacterial infection which, if left untreated, can cause scarring and blockage of the fallopian tubes. This makes it harder for eggs to move through the tubes into the womb, which increases the risk of ectopic pregnancies.

Can it be treated?

Early identification and removal can prevent long-term damage being done to the sufferer’s fertility. If caught early enough, PID can often be treated with antibiotics, though these medications should be avoided if you are already pregnant. The majority of women who are treated for PID are still able to have children.

Polycystic ovaries

What are they?

Ovaries that don’t function as they should do because of cysts and irregular ovulation. Abnormal hormone levels – including excess insulin – are the likely cause in most women.  Irregular periods, weight gain, unusual hair growth (or loss) and infertility are all symptoms of polycystic ovaries.

Can they be treated?

Polycystic ovaries can be treated but there is no ‘cure’ for them. Diet, exercise for weight loss and medications that treat the irregular periods and unusual hair growth/loss may help to reduce their impact on your fertility. Blood tests and ultrasound scans can be used to diagnose polycystic ovaries and, once treated, most women are still able to conceive.

Overactive or underactive thyroid

What is it?

Relatively common conditions that occur when a woman has either too much or too little thyroid hormone. Overactive thyroid can cause anxiety and unwanted weight loss, while underactive thyroid can lead to depression, tiredness and weight gain. 

Can it be treated?

Thyroid problems can often be treated by medications that deal with the symptoms and make life more bearable for sufferers. In more serious cases it may be necessary to completely remove the thyroid gland. If you are being treated for overactive or underactive thyroid it is important to let your GP know that you are trying to conceive. Because of the medications used to treat both conditions, your GP may recommend some additional monitoring or tests before and during your pregnancy.

Early menopause

What is it?

Premature ovarian failure is a condition that affects young women under the age of 40. The ovaries stop working and the body goes through all the physical and emotional symptoms of early menopause. A small number of young women may be shocked by an early menopause diagnosis, as their periods may continue intermittently despite the condition.

Can it be treated?

Premature ovarian failure cannot be treated, which makes it all the more important to focus on trying to conceive before you reach the age of 35. If young women with premature ovarian failure still have irregular periods, there is a small chance that they could still conceive naturally.

Age related infertility

What is it?

Although not technically a medical condition, age is one of the key factors affecting female fertility. Many women find it extremely difficult to conceive after the age of 40 and many won’t be able to conceive once they’ve reached 35.

Can it be treated?

Older women who undergo IVF treatment may have a slightly better chance of conceiving than those who try naturally, but there is no way to overturn the effects that age has on female fertility.

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