Common Signs of Infertility in Men and Women
Trying to identify signs of infertility comes with a whole host of emotions, from concerns about your current health to worries over the chance of growing your family in the future. The truth is, most infertility issues come with signals from the body, whether something isn't functioning correctly in the man, the woman, or both partners. And frankly, many infertility concerns are treatable. The sooner you identify what's going on, the sooner you can talk to your fertility doctor about an effective treatment plan.
Signs of infertility in men
Infertility isn't just an occurrence in women, in fact, 10% of all men in the United States have fertility problems. Symptoms of infertility in men can come in a few forms, including low testosterone, decreased sperm count or motility, or other changes in overall sexual function.
But it can be difficult to identify these early signs of infertility in men. The most obvious factor is the inability for his partner to conceive after several months to a year of regular, unprotected sex.
Here are some red flags that may occur when there are potential fertility issues in a male partner.
Erectile dysfunction or change in sexual desire
Ongoing respiratory issues
Decreased ability to smell
Hormonal abnormality, signaled by breast growth and/or decreased body hair
Signs of infertility in women
While many signs of infertility in women can be subtle and may go unnoticed, it is important to be aware of any changes in your body and reproductive health so that you can seek the appropriate treatment if needed.
Some potential signs of infertility in women can include:
Irregular menstrual cycles
Difficulty getting pregnant
Changes in hair or unwanted hair growth
Unexplained weight gain
Milky discharge from the breasts
While these signs aren't automatically a sign of infertility, they may offer your fertility doctor clues to what's going on if you're having trouble getting pregnant.
What are some causes of infertility in men and women?
There are a number of potential causes of infertility in men and women, including hormonal imbalances, genetic conditions, certain medical conditions or treatments, and lifestyle factors.
Some possible causes of infertility in men include:
Exposure to certain toxins or chemicals
High levels of stress and anxiety
Varicocele, which drains the testicle due to swollen veins
Infections that cause testicular damage, such as epididymitis, orchitis, or certain STDs
Hormonal imbalances, including low testosterone levels
For women, some possible causes of infertility may include:
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone imbalance that is both common and treatable
Endometriosis is excess tissue that can grow on the outside of the uterus or fallopian tubes and may be treated to improve fertility
Uterine fibroids or polyps are non-cancerous growths on the uterus
Chronic pelvic inflammatory disease can be caused by bacteria from chlamydia or gonorrhea
Other untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
How is infertility diagnosed?
There are non-invasive methods to check fertility in both women and men. For women, your fertility doctor will likely perform a pelvic exam and an ultrasound to check for abnormalities in your ovaries and uterus. You may also get a blood test to check your hormone levels. Another infertility test is a hysterosalpingogram, which involves placing dye in your uterus to see via x-ray if it moves through your tubes or if they're blocked.
A male fertility test involves a semen analysis. Once the sample is collected, your fertility doctor can test sperm count, motility, and overall size, shape, and quality of the sperm.
The results of these tests can help develop a strategic treatment plan to overcome your specific challenges. Try not to feel nervous and instead focus on getting the information you need to create that plan of action moving forward.
How is infertility treated physically?
Your fertility doctor will craft a personalized treatment plan based on you and your partner's individual needs. Both men and women may receive recommendations on specific dietary supplements or lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking or losing weight.
Fertility treatments, depending on the man's symptoms and diagnosis, may be treated with medication for infections or hormonal adjustments.
For women, the treatment plan similarly depends on the root cause of infertility. Intrauterine insemination (IUI) artificially inseminates sperm directly into a woman's uterus to increase the chance of fertilization. This lower cost is often a starting step, particularly if the reason for infertility is unclear. Invitro fertilization (IVF) is another option that involves retrieving eggs (or using donor eggs) and combining with sperm to create an embryo. Then your specialist will transplant the embryo into the uterus during ovulation.
How is infertility treated emotionally?
For many people, the emotional effects of infertility can be just as challenging as the physical symptoms. Give yourself some self-care by incorporating some of these support opportunities into your life on a regular basis. Ask friends and family for support: You don't have to carry your worries and fears by yourself. Make a habit of touching base with at least one family member or friend who makes you feel better after sharing with them. Oftentimes, it's the people who are great listeners (rather than advice-givers) who offer the best support. Make time for you: Whether it's exercise, meditation, or a group yoga class, find some quiet time where you can focus on yourself. Add an appointment to your calendar to protect that space.
Talk to a therapist or counselor: Sometimes we all need professional help. Talk to your fertility doctor for local recommendations of therapists or counselors who have experience with clients facing infertility issues.