11 Signs of Infertility in Women (& What To Do Next)
Infertility is actually a lot more common than you might think. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that around 48 million couples worldwide struggle to conceive.
Thankfully, treatments for infertility have never been better. However, it’s still important to be knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of infertility so that you can get the right help asap should you ever have difficulties with getting pregnant.
To help, here’s an article outlining the 11 most common symptoms of infertility in women. We’ve also included some tips for staying on top of your fertility through hormone testing.
How common is infertility in women?
The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that infertility affects around 11% of women of reproductive age in the United States. Infertility is typically defined as being unable to get pregnant after one year of trying (for those under the age of 35) or after six months (for those over the age of 35).
11 signs of infertility in women
Getting pregnant is a complex biological process that requires your reproductive organs and hormones to be working together harmoniously. And if things aren’t working the way that they should, your body may experience certain symptoms that could be a sign of infertility.
Here is an overview of the 11 most common symptoms to be aware of.
Quick note: understanding the symptoms of infertility is important. However, it’s even more important to understand that there are effective ways to manage infertility both at home and at the doctor’s office. So if you find yourself scrutinizing your symptoms and worrying about getting pregnant, try not to panic! There are a range of treatments available that can help you.
Changes to your cycle
One of the most common signs of infertility is a noticeable change to your menstrual cycle. This could be anything from a change in cycle length to how light/heavy your period is.
Many of us are naturally aware of our cycle patterns and symptoms. However, if you are actively trying to conceive (TTC), it’s a good idea to keep track of these symptoms in a diary or in a fertility tracking app (like the Mira app) so that you can refer back to them when you need to.
If you notice that your period is getting harder and harder to predict, this could be a sign of infertility. Irregular periods are commonly seen in individuals with hormone imbalances and hormone conditions, such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
Excessive stress or lifestyle changes may cause you to skip a period occasionally. However, if you are used to having them but they suddenly stopped, this is a sign that ovulation is not happening – which is crucial to getting pregnant.
Heavier than normal period
A period that is noticeably heavier than normal could be an indicator of a condition affecting your ability to get pregnant, such as PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
If your period is excessively painful so much so that it disrupts your daily activities, this could be a sign of endometriosis or fibroids. Both of these conditions can lead to infertility, with endometriosis causing infertility in approximately 30 to 50% of women with the disorder.
Sudden or severe acne
A sudden change in your skin, such as the onset of severe acne, could be a sign that your hormones are out of balance. One of the primary causes of severe acne is high androgen levels, which is commonly seen in women with PCOS. In addition to acne, high androgen levels can also disrupt the rhythm of your menstrual cycle and interfere with ovulation.
In cases where acne is related to PCOS, it tends to appear in the more hormonally sensitive areas of the face. This includes areas around the chin and jawline.
Unexplained weight gain is another potential sign of an underlying hormonal imbalance, oftentimes due to hormonal conditions like PCOS. This is because PCOS can lead to insulin resistance, which can cause blood sugar levels to spike and energy levels to plummet. The result? Unexplained weight gain in areas around the waist and abdomen.
However, research shows that when PCOS patients reduce their weight by 5-10%, they can also reduce their body’s insulin resistance by up to 50%. This can help to regulate the menstrual cycle and promote ovulation.
A common symptom of both endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is painful intercourse. While everyone’s experience is different, many individuals describe painful sex as a sudden, stabbing feeling in the vagina and/or abdomen. This could occur during sex or after sex.
In individuals with PID, pain during intercourse is caused by scarring in the fallopian tubes and pelvic organs. In individuals with endometriosis, pain is caused by the pulling and stretching of endometrial tissue.
Sudden weight gain
Sudden weight gain could be a sign of hypothyroidism, which not only slows down the metabolism, but it can also lead to a hormonal imbalance. This hormonal imbalance can interrupt the menstrual cycle and make it difficult to ovulate. Hypothyroidism is often treated with medication to help the body restore hormone levels and reverse symptoms (such as weight gain).
Excessive facial hair growth in areas like the upper lip, chin, and neck is another sign of a hormonal imbalance. Similar to the onset of severe acne, unwanted facial hair is common in individuals with PCOS due to elevated androgen levels.
In addition to hair growth in areas around the face, PCOS may also cause unwanted hair growth on the breasts, lower abdomen, inner thighs, and lower back.
Thinning of hair
There are several reasons why your hair may start to thin – such as stress, age, family history, or medication. However, if you are experiencing excessive hair thinning, this could be a sign of PCOS. Individual experiences of hair loss will vary, however, it typically starts with an overall slow thinning of the hair in areas around the crown and the front of the scalp.
To learn more about hair loss due to PCOS, check out our article PCOS Hair Loss: Causes, Treatments, and Regrowth Success Stories.
Reduced sex drive
If you find yourself dreading or avoiding sex due to how painful it is, this could be a sign of endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease. Both of these conditions can have a serious impact on your ability to get pregnant, so it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor if something doesn’t feel quite right.
How to test your fertility
Your fertility status doesn’t have to be a mystery. The best way to learn all about your fertility and chances of conception is to have your hormones tested.
Home hormone testing
If you want a one-time snapshot of things like your follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), estradiol (E2), luteinizing hormone (LH), progesterone, and prolactin levels, there are at-home testing solutions like Lets Get Checked, Everlywell, and Modern Fertility. These companies often require you to order a test kit, take a blood sample, and mail your sample back to their laboratories for testing. You will then receive your results via email within a couple of business days.
To follow your fertility hormones more regularly, you can do so with Mira’s full hormone tracking system. This system allows you to measure and track key fertility hormone levels in urine over time – enabling you to better understand your cycle and fertility status while planning a pregnancy.
Blood testing at your doctor’s office
The more traditional way to test your fertility hormones is to have your blood tested at your doctor’s office. This typically involves making an appointment with your GP, giving a blood sample, and waiting a few days to receive your results.
While this is likely the more expensive option for many individuals depending on insurance implications, it can be reassuring and helpful to have a doctor read and assess your results with you.
Is infertility treatable?
Yes. Infertility is treatable, and the US Department of Health and Human Services reports that once an individual receives a diagnosis of infertility, the success rate with treatment is 50%.
The most common types of treatments for infertility include fertility medications such as Clomiphene, Letrozole, and Gonadotropins. In cases where the fallopian tubes are damaged, surgery is also possible.
Other common treatments for infertility include intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
Can men be infertile, too?
Yes. In fact, the Cleveland Clinic estimates that of all the men in the United States actively TTC, approximately 10% will struggle with infertility. Common symptoms of infertility in men include reduced sex drive, testicle pain, erectile dysfunction, and problems with ejaculation.
Is infertility genetic?
Sometimes. Research shows that genetics are to blame for nearly 50% of infertility cases. In the female body, common genetic disorders that could impact fertility include Turner syndrome, Fragile X premutation, and Kallmann syndrome. In biological males, common genetic disorders impacting fertility include Klinefelter syndrome, Y-chromosome microdeletions, and Kallmann syndrome.