Infertility Causes & Risk Factors

Infertility causes at a glance

  • Infertility is the inability to conceive a baby after trying for a year to get pregnant through sex without contraception.
  • For women, conditions associated with causing infertility include irregular or abnormal periods, hormone issues, diseases such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and reproductive structural problems.
  • For men, conditions include difficulty with erections or ejaculation, insufficient sperm production or unhealthy sperm, or problems with reproductive anatomy.
  • Common risk factors for infertility are age (more so in women), genetic abnormalities, inflammation or structural problems in the reproductive organs, prior surgeries, harmful lifestyle issues, and sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Fertility testing offers a clinical diagnosis of the potential causes in men and women, which guides the treatments our fertility specialists recommend.

What is infertility and what causes it?

Simply put, infertility is the inability to conceive after one year of trying to get pregnant through fairly frequent intercourse without any kind of birth control. For women over age 35, infertility exists if pregnancy doesn’t occur after six months of trying.

It’s important to realize that infertility affects men and women at the same rate. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine reports that the male is a sole cause or a contributing cause of infertility in about 40% of cases. More than one cause is present in about 25% of couples experiencing infertility.

Infertility involves physiological conditions that either prevent the release of the female’s egg, prevent fertilization of the female’s egg by the man’s sperm, prevent successful implantation of an embryo after fertilization for a pregnancy, or prevent the woman from carrying a pregnancy to term and a live birth.

Often, the reasons for not getting pregnant aren’t clear or detectable at the outset. One reason for this is that it is impossible to simultaneously assess all of the critical events necessary for pregnancy in a woman’s body (ovulation, sperm delivery, fertilization, tubal transportation, embryo development and implantation). Studying these events in women while the couple are trying to conceive would obviously interrupt the ability to get pregnant that cycle and so, for ethical reasons, studying all steps of fertility in a woman’s body is challenging.

The lack of a clear, obvious cause of infertility can create confusion, frustration and sadness for aspiring parents. This is particularly true for those who have not sought the advice of a fertility specialist.

Getting pregnant can be a more complicated process than couples realize. There are a number of reasons why conceiving or carrying a child to term could be difficult, including genetics, age, structural problems in the reproductive system, prior surgery, sexually transmitted disease, and lifestyle factors such as smoking and obesity.

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Signs of infertility conditions in women

  • Irregular or abnormal periods.
  • No periods.
  • Painful periods that may involve cramping or back and/or pelvic pain.
  • Pain during sex.
  • Hormone problems, such as increased body hair or acne, weight gain or loss of sex drive.
  • Miscarriage.

Signs of infertility conditions in men

  • Problems with erections or ejaculation.
  • Pain, lumps, swelling or firmness in the testicles.
  • Changes in sexual desire.
  • Body changes, such as hair growth or loss.
  • Sexually transmitted disease.

Causes of infertility

  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
    Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) affects more than 1 million women in the United States every year. This infection causes chronic pain and infertility.
  • Lifestyle Causes of Infertility
    Causes of infertility are not always reversible, but for some men and women, improving health and making smarter lifestyle choices can improve fertility.
  • Abnormal Periods
    Abnormal periods are menstrual cycles that differ from a woman’s typical cycle, or from the normal range of menstruation and can impact fertility.
  • Pelvic Pain & Infertility
    Pelvic pain refers to pain in the pelvic region – the area below the belly button and between the hips. It can be associated with a range of systems in the body, including gynecologic, gastrointestinal, urinary or musculoskeletal issues.
  • Anovulation
    Anovulation occurs when a woman does not release an egg during her menstrual cycle. In most cases, the woman has irregular, unpredictable or absent menses.
  • Diminished Ovarian Reserve
    Women with diminished ovarian reserve have few eggs left or eggs that are of poor quality, reducing the chances of conceiving with in vitro fertilization. See how we test ovarian reserve.
  • Endometriosis
    Endometriosis occurs when the lining inside the uterus (endometrium) grows outside the uterus. The two most common symptoms are pain and/or infertility.
  • Hirsutism
    When a woman has increased body hair, similar to that seen in men, she may have hirsutism. The symptoms often improve with medical or cosmetic treatment.
  • Male Infertility Factors
    Male factors contribute to about half of the identifiable causes of infertility, and males are generally included in initial infertility evaluations.
  • Ovarian Cysts
    Ovarian cysts are solid or fluid-filled sacs located within or on the surface of the ovaries. Ovarian cysts can result in abnormal ovulation and, depending upon source or size, can hamper a woman’s fertility.
  • PCOS
    Women with polycystic ovary syndrome do not ovulate on a regular basis, and infertility is a very common complaint. PCOS occurs in about 7 percent of women.
  • Recurrent Miscarriage & Pregnancy Loss
    Recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL) is when a woman has experienced two or more consecutive miscarriages with the same partner. There are many possible causes of RPL, categorized as chromosomal, anatomic, immunologic, infectious, hormonal or genetic, environmental, and unknown.
  • Tubal Disease
    Tubal disease can include endometriosis, infection or other reasons that may cause a woman's fallopian tubes to become blocked. IVF is generally recommended.
  • Uterine Anomalies
    Uterine anomalies are anatomical problems with the uterus that women are born with – developing when a female is growing in her mother’s womb.
  • Uterine Fibroids
    Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous growths in a woman’s uterine cavity. Several methods of controlling symptoms are available for women with fibroids.
  • Uterine Polyps
    Uterine polyps are bulb-shaped growths that develop in the uterus, and they can prevent the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall correctly.
  • Unexplained Infertility
    Unexplained infertility does not mean there is no cause for a couple’s infertility. It just means that our diagnostic tools and examinations have failed to detect the cause. Treatments can still result in pregnancy.

Find more detailed information by visiting TRM’s Health Library and Doctors’ Blog, or contact us online.

How to get pregnant

Before turning to reproductive medicine, learn how to get pregnant naturally and read about typical conception rates.

Getting Pregnant

Check your fertility

If you're concerned about your fertility or trying to get pregnant without success, take our online fertility check quiz.

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Fertility testing & diagnosis

The goal of testing in both men and women is to determine causes of infertility and diagnose correctable issues. Typically, men and women should consider getting tested if they have not been able to achieve pregnancy after a year of having regular, unprotected intercourse.

Testing for Women

Testing for Men

Infertility treatments

Learn more about treatments offered at TRM, including IVF, genetic screening and robotic surgery.

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IVF

Treatments & Services

Donation & surrogacy

Egg, embryo or sperm donation and surrogacy are viable options to grow a family. Learn about each process including risks and benefits. Donation & Surrogacy