For most couples, the first symptom of infertility is when after a year of unprotected sex, they can't get pregnant. It is possible to have regular cycles, a healthy sex life, not have any of the risk factors, be generally healthy, and still suffer from infertility.
But for some couples, there are early warning signs or risk factors that may hint to a fertility problem, before they try for six months to a year unsuccessfully.
Here are some questions to ask yourself and your partner. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may want to speak to your doctor before you spend a year trying on your own.
Do you have irregular cycles?
An irregular cycle can be a red flag for infertility problems. If your cycles are unusually short or long (less than 24 days, or more than 35 days), or come unpredictably, you should speak with your doctor. An irregular cycle may be a sign of possible ovulation problems.
More on ovulation:
- Quiz: Are My Periods Normal?
- What Is Considered a Normal Period
- Can I Get Pregnant with Irregular Periods?
- Anovulation and Ovulatory Dysfunction
- Signs of Ovulation: 7 Ways to Detect Ovulation
Do you bleed extremely heavily or lightly? Do you have excessive cramps?
Bleeding for anything between 3 to 7 days can be considered normal. However, if the bleeding is very light, or extremely heavy and intense, you should see your doctor. Also, if the bleeding changes significantly from month to month, either in terms of the heaviness or coloring, or length of bleeding time, or if you suffer from severe menstrual cramps, these are also possible symptoms that may hint to a fertility problem.
More on causes of infertility that affect menstruation:
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Uterine Fibroids/Polyps
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Are you older than 35?
If you're older than age 35, your chances of dealing with infertility are higher. For example, at age 30, the average woman's chance of conceiving during any one cycle is 20%. By age 40, that chance drops to a low 5%. If you're over age 35, you should seek help if six months of unprotected sex doesn't lead to pregnancy.
More on fertility and age:
- Why Getting Pregnant After 35 Is Harder
- Too Young For Infertility?
- Male Fertility: Does Age Matter?
- What Are My Chances of Pregnancy After 40?
Does your partner experience impotence or ejaculatory problems?
Male factor infertility isn't always so obvious - usually low sperm counts or inhibited sperm mobility is determined by a sperm analysis (in other words, you won't be able to "notice" this yourself.) But if your partner does experience sexual dysfunction, this could be an infertility red flag.
More on male fertility:
- Male Infertility: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment
- Semen Analysis: What to Expect
- Why Every Infertile Couple Needs Semen Analysis
Are you either underweight or overweight?
Being excessively thin or overweight can lead to infertility problems. Also, extreme or poor dieting practices, or too much exercise, can lead to problems with fertility.
How do you know if you're too thin, or overweight? Check your BMI to see if your weight is in the healthy range.
More on weight and fertility:
- Study: Being Slightly Overweight Can Cause Fertility Problems
- BMI Calculator
- Calorie Calculator: How Much Should You Be Eating?
Have you had three successive miscarriages?
While infertility is usually associated with the inability to get pregnant, a woman who experiences recurrent miscarriages may also need help getting pregnant.
Because miscarriage is not that uncommon -- happening in anywhere from 10% to 20% of pregnancies -- doctors do not usually consider a diagnosis of recurrent miscarriages until after the third successive miscarriage. However, many doctors will look into things after having just two miscarriages in a row.
Do you or your partner have any chronic illnesses, like diabetes, thyroid problems, or hypertension?
Chronic illnesses, as well as their treatments, can lead to fertility problems. According to The American Fertility Association, illnesses like diabetes and hypothyroidism can cause fertility problems. Insulin, antidepressants, and thyroid hormones may lead to irregular cycles. Tagamet (cimetidine), a medication used in the treatment of peptic ulcers, and some hypertension medications can cause male factor infertility, including problems with sperm production or their ability to fertilize the egg.
If you are dealing with chronic illness, or taking a medication that impacts your fertility, talk to your doctor about possible options.
Have you or your partner been treated for cancer in the past?
Some cancer treatments can lead to fertility problems. If you or your partner has gone through cancer treatments, especially radiation therapy that was near the reproductive organs, seeking feedback from your doctor is recommended.
Do you or your partner have a history of STDs?
STDs can be the cause of infertility. Infection and inflammation from chlamydia or gonorrhea can cause blockage of the fallopian tubes, making pregnancy either impossible or putting a woman at risk for ectopic pregnancy.
Because chlamydia and gonorrhea do not usually cause noticeable symptoms in women, it's important that you've been screened for these STDs.
Do you or your partner smoke or drink alcohol?
Just about everyone knows drinking and smoking while pregnant is a big no-no. But smoking and drinking while trying to get pregnant is also a problem. Smoking has been linked to problems with conception in women, and heavy drinking has been linked with female and male infertility.
More on infertility symptoms and getting help:
- Take a Fertility Quiz
- Talking to Your Doctor About Getting Pregnant
- Fertility Specialists: Who They Are and How They Can Help You
- Finding the Best Fertility Clinic for You
- When Should You Seek Help for Getting Pregnant?
- Why Can't I Get Pregnant if I'm Healthy?
- How to Have a Baby When You've Been Trying for Awhile
- What to Expect During Fertility Testing
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Who's Infertile? Us?. American Fertility Association. Accessed January 21, 2008. http://www.theafa.org/conceive/whosinfertile.html
Frequently Asked Questions About Infertility. American Society of Reproductive Medicine. Accessed January 21, 2008. http://asrm.org/awards/index.aspx?id=3012
Age and Fertility: A Guide to Patients. American Society of Reproductive Medicine. Accessed January 28, 2oo8. http://asrm.org/uploadedFiles/ASRM_Content/Resources/Patient_Resources/Fact_Sheets_and_Info_Booklets/agefertility.pdf
Infertility and STDs. Center for Disease Control. Accessed January 28, 2008. http://www.cdc.gov/std/infertility/default.htm
Changes to Diet and Lifestyle May Help Prevent Infertility from Ovulatory Disorders. Harvard School of Public Health, Press Release. Accessed January 21, 2008. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/sgr_2004/highlights/5.htm
Miscarriage. American Pregnancy Association. Accessed January 28, 2008. http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancycomplications/miscarriage.html