The Most Common Signs of Infertility
After many attempts at getting pregnant and failing, it’s easy to slip into thinking you’re a failure, or that something is wrong with you or your partner.
Soon enough, you’re down that mental rabbit-hole questioning yourself. “Will we ever be able to have a child?” or “Is there something terribly wrong with me that can’t be fixed?”
With 12% of couples having difficulty getting pregnant, you’re not alone. This is a common problem among many couples.
Before anxiously making that appointment with a doctor to find out the truth, it’s natural to want to take matters into your own hands. You may want to see if there are any tell-tale symptoms that might indicate that you or your partner is infertile.
Below are several signs and symptoms that may explain why you haven’t been able to get pregnant just yet.
The main symptom of infertility
As silly as this may sound, the main symptom of infertility is that you haven’t been able to get pregnant. This might be enough evidence that something is awry and needs more investigation.
The first question you want to ask yourself is:
Have you been trying long enough?
If you are under the age of 35, it’s recommended that you try for a full year of unprotected sex to get pregnant. If you haven’t been trying for a full year, don’t fear. There could be a number of reasons on why you haven’t conceived yet, and keep trying!
If you are over the age of 35, you should try getting pregnant for six full months before seeking medical help.
So besides the obvious, “I’ve been trying and haven’t gotten pregnant” sign, what other signs could mean difficulty conceiving? Ladies first.
What are signs of infertility in women?
For us women, many signs come, not so surprisingly, from our reproductive system. Our menstrual cycle is a great indicator of the health of our bodies and how well we might be able to conceive a child.
1 ) Abnormal periods
Most women know their routine once they get their period. They know what to expect in terms of how long it will last and how heavy it will be. They expect a certain number of heavy days, and a certain number of lighter days.
Abnormal periods are just the opposite. During menstruation, if you find that month after month you’re getting heavier periods or extremely light periods, this may indicate something is wrong. If you don’t have that consistent pattern during your 4-7 days of bleeding each month, it can be a sign of deeper health issues that can lead to infertility.
If you think this is an issue, the Mayo Clinic calls this menorrhagia and it’s typically caused by a hormonal imbalance.
2) Irregular periods
If you’re charting your periods and you notice a varying of a few days (28 last month, 29 this month) it’s not a big deal. Even a month or two that seem very off (31 days when it’s normally 27) shouldn’t be much to worry about since many factors affect the length of cycles. Between stress, hormonal shifts, changes to your workout routine, and diets, your cycle might just be out of whack.
But if you’re constantly having periods that vary more than 5 days each month, or if you go a few months without a period, this is called an irregular period.
Reasons for irregular periods could be a hormonal imbalance or some months of anovulation. Anovulation means that you did not ovulate during that cycle.
It’s important to see a doctor if you’re experiencing this. It’s likely they will test you for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. PCOS happens when the estrogen and progesterone in your body are not at balanced levels. It can lead to growth on your ovaries and produce cysts.
3) No periods
The average woman has 11-13 periods every year. If you have never had your period or haven’t had your period in 3 months, this is a major reason you cannot get pregnant and is called amenorrhea. This means your ovaries aren’t producing and releasing eggs. This could be related to age or to a deeper issue.
If you’ve recently stopped birth control, it may take some time for your normal period to return, so an absence of a period shouldn’t be too alarming. It’s always smart to make an appointment with your gynecologist if you haven’t gotten a period in several months.
Without natural, normal periods, you will not be able to conceive.
4) Painful periods
As women, it’s typical to have the occasional cramp that lasts a few hours (and of course a heating pad and some hot tea nearby). If you have mildly painful periods, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re infertile.
That said, if you have severe pelvic pain or back pain and it’s causing you to vomit, or call off of work, this could be something called endometriosis. This is a common condition for women in the US and it’s treatable.
The reason it can be linked to infertility is that 1-2 of every 5 infertile women have endometriosis.
There can be a few symptoms outside of your reproductive system that may indicate infertility. Usually, these signs are indicative of a hormonal issue.
5) Weight gain
If you have noticed the scale continually tipping higher than normal, especially after several attempts at losing weight over the course of a few months, you may be dealing with a hormone problem that can be prohibiting you from becoming pregnant.
6) Changes to your hair
Has your hair been falling out more than usual lately? It may be especially noticeable in the shower. The average person loses up to 250 strands a day if they’ve washed their hair. But if you’re noticing a strange amount falling out and even thinning hair on your scalp, it might be time to see a doctor.
On the other hand,you might notice strange dark hair growth on your upper lip, chin or chest. Places where hair is normally light peach fuzz are now turning dark brown or black. This can be a sign of a hormonal imbalance or of PCOS.
7) A decreased sex drive
Do you find yourself struggling to enjoy a romantic relationship with your partner? Is it caused by painful intercourse or just because you never ‘feel in the mood’? Even if you’re trying for a baby, you might still have a decreased sex drive and only be engaging in sex to procreate.
Of course, there could be other factors like a stressful job or home environment. These can play a role in decreasing your sex drive, but your doctor could tell you if it’s pointing to another issue.
If the desire for sex is lacking or you find that intercourse is painful, this is yet another sign of a hormonal imbalance that can be causing infertility.
If you have a combination of these symptoms and are trying to get pregnant, it’s a great idea to make an appointment with your doctor. Sit down with them and let them know what signs you’ve noticed and if they think you may have a health problem causing infertility.
What are signs of infertility in men?
Infertility signs in men are much harder to pinpoint and aren’t as obvious. There are a few symptoms, but they don’t necessarily mean a man cannot get a woman pregnant if he tried.
1) Prior surgery on his reproductive system
Has your partner had surgery on his testicle, scrotum, penis or even groin? Although surgeons do their best to make sure everything is back to normal, it’s possible that there could be some lingering symptom or an issue that can be causing a lower sperm count due to the prior surgery.
It may just be a side effect of the surgery, so make sure to ask your partner if he was warned about this. He might know more about it than you think.
If you and your partner have been trying for a year, and he has had prior surgery, bring that up when meeting with the doctor as a possible reason for infertility.
2) Recurring respiratory issues
This may sound like an odd sign, and it is. If your partner has issues with his sinuses and they aren’t due to seasonal allergies, there is something else to look for.
A rare genetic disorder called Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia causes the lining of various tracts in the body to move abnormally. The lining is made up of small hairs called cilia. Cilia move items through your tracts, but with this disease, they do not move normally and can cause issues.
How does this relate to infertility? There are also cilia hairs on the ‘tail’ of each sperm. If your partner has this disorder, the sperm can be negatively affected and won’t be able to travel as well as they should.
Since this is such a rare disorder, it’s still being studied and understood. It’s also not likely that this is causing your infertility.
3) Abnormal lack of hair or breast growth
Just like women, men’s hormones can be unbalanced and this can cause unpleasant side effects like gynecomastia or a lack of body hair.
Gynecomastia is the swelling of the breast tissue in a man. This is normally indicative of decreased testosterone. It’s treatable and can usually be resolved within just a few months.
A lack of hair (both facial hair and body hair) can also indicate the same hormonal imbalance. Strangely enough, it can also mean that this man has a chromosomal abnormality. This reason is much rarer, and it’s most likely that the lack of hair is hormonal.
4) Visible changes to the genitals
Has your partner noticed some strange abnormalities to his man parts? It might be that his testicles are smaller and firmer, or that he can feel a new lump in his testicles. It’s important to get lumps checked out as soon as noticing them, especially because they may mean something more serious.
Perhaps see if there is any swelling or large visible veins that aren’t normally there. This could mean he has a blockage that is preventing the sperm from leaving the testicle.
5) Ejaculatory problems
There are numerous problems with sexual function that could indicate infertility. This may be one of the most obvious ways to tell that your partner is having issues helping you conceive.
If he struggles with ejaculation or has minimal volumes of fluid, this might mean he has a lower sperm count than normal.
Erectile dysfunction is a common problem among men and could also be an issue when trying to get pregnant. For obvious reasons of course.
6) Decreased sex drive
Like women, a man having decreased sexual desire can be a sign that there’s an issue with fertility.
Men are naturally fertile all the time. They normally can always produce sperm on a daily basis. This means the hormones that typically drive sexual desire are always present. On the other hand, women are only fertile a short period each month, and therefore may not be as sexually driven as men every day.
Since men are naturally fertile at all times, a decrease in sex drive is a huge indicator that something isn’t quite right. It can mean a hormonal imbalance that is affecting his sperm count, and ultimately his fertility.
The human body is a delicate mechanism. Imbalances will always cause symptoms and unusual occurrences. There are specific signs of infertility that individuals need to be aware of.
A consultation with a physician is a necessity in such instances. Many causes of infertility in men and women can be treated successfully, as long as medical attention is sought promptly.