Fertility is defined as the natural ability or quality of a woman to become pregnant and give birth to children. When a woman is unable to get pregnant after trying (having unprotected sex) for a year, it is known as infertility. If a woman gets pregnant but keeps having miscarriages or stillbirths, that's also called infertility. 

Miscarriage is an event that results in the loss of a fetus (baby-to-be) before 20 weeks of pregnancy. A stillbirth is the death or loss of a baby before or during delivery. 

Infertility is very common and can affect both men and women. 

In recent years, problems of female infertility have gone up like never before. However, have you ever thought about the factors that lead to this condition?

There are many possible early warning signs of infertility. Here are seven signs that tell you might be infertile or have fertility issues. However, if any of these sound familiar to you, do not panic — none of these symptoms are absolute signs that fertility problems are down the road for you. 

If you experience these symptoms, make an appointment with a fertility specialist or your gynaecologist to discuss your concerns.

7 Infertility Signs You Should Look Out For

1. Irregular menstrual cycle. A period also called menses/menstruation, is a time when your body releases tissues in the form of blood, through your vagina (an elastic, muscular canal with a soft, flexible lining, which is a part of the female reproductive tract). This monthly process is called menstruation or menses or a period and on average, a woman's menstrual cycle is 28 days long. A few days here and there is considered a normal cycle. But when the cycle varies so much that it becomes difficult to estimate when the next period is likely to arrive, then there could be a problem. 

An irregular cycle can be due to abnormal ovulation (is the release of an egg from your ovary into your fallopian tube which happens about 13–15 days before the start of each period) problems. 

It could also be due to hormonal issues (an imbalance in the amount of your body’s chemical messengers known as hormones), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and can contribute to infertility. Other possible causes for irregular periods include: 

  • Hyperprolactinemia. This is a condition in which you have higher-than-normal levels of the hormone prolactin in the blood. High prolactin levels interfere with the normal production of other hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, leading to irregular or missed periods.

  • Primary ovarian insufficiency. Ovaries are your primary female reproductive organs that are responsible for releasing eggs and hormones. If there is a loss of normal function of your ovaries before the age 40, it can lead to irregular periods.

  • Thyroid dysfunction. A condition in which your thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone. Too much or too little thyroid hormone can make your periods very light, heavy, or irregular. 

  • Low ovarian reserves. Your ovarian reserve refers to the quality and quantity of your eggs, and diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) means those factors are decreasing. DOR is a major cause of infertility.

  • Overweight and underweight. Overweight or obesity (an excess accumulation of body fat) is known to cause menstrual irregularity. If you are underweight, you are more likely to have low blood counts, leading to menstrual irregularity.

2. Light or heavy bleeding and cramps during your periods. Three to seven days of bleeding is considered normal. But if bleeding is very light or extremely heavy, then it is problematic. Abnormally heavy or light periods can indicate you have PCOS, which is one of the leading causes of infertility in women today. 

PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) is a common hormonal disorder in women of reproductive age group. This hormone imbalance can either disturb your regular menstrual periods and make it harder for you to get pregnant (indicating infertility).

Menstrual cramps (throbbing pains in the lower abdomen that occur usually during your periods) that interfere with your daily life can be a symptom of endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease, both of which can cause infertility. 

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of one or more of the upper reproductive organs, including the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. PID can result in permanent damage to your reproductive organs, causing infertility.

Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus (secondary female sex hormone) grows outside the uterus. Endometrial tissue on the ovaries can inhibit ovulation, preventing the release of an egg, causing infertility. 

Both of these diseases get worse with time, so it’s important you don’t delay seeking help. 

3. Hormonal imbalance. Hormonal changes are continuously occurring in your body. Hormonal fluctuations might be an indicator of potential fertility issues. When hormones such as estrogen, Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), Luteinizing Hormone (LH), thyroid hormones, and prolactin are not at correct levels, they can cause irregular menstrual cycles and affect fertility. 

  • Progesterone is a female hormone that regulates the menstrual cycle and is crucial for pregnancy. 

  • Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone that helps develop and maintain both the reproductive system and female characteristics, such as breasts and pubic hair.

  • Follicle-stimulating hormone is the most essential for the functioning of your ovaries.

  • Luteinizing hormone helps control your menstrual cycle.

  • Thyroid hormones are produced by your thyroid gland that uses iodine from food to make two thyroid hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Thyroid hormones are vital for the proper functioning of the female reproductive system.

  • Prolactin is a hormone made by your pituitary gland (a small gland at the base of the brain). Prolactin causes the breasts to grow and make milk during pregnancy and after birth. 

4. Loss of libido. A major decrease in your sex drive (libido) could signify lots of things besides infertility. Your drop in desire might just mean you're extremely stressed out or depressed. Certain medications can mess with your sex drive, too. Again, only your doctor can tell you for certain if your lack of sex drive points to fertility issues; so if this sounds like you, make an appointment with your general physician or gynaecologist to discuss what this means.

5. Recurrent miscarriages. Infertility is usually associated with the inability to get pregnant. However, a woman who experiences recurrent miscarriages may also need help from a fertility specialist for getting pregnant. 

Repeated miscarriage is not common. Only one percent of women will miscarry three pregnancies in a row. If you’ve had two successive miscarriages, talk to a fertility expert immediately. 

6. Drastic change in facial or body hair. Changes in hair growth (or texture) are an indicator of hormonal irregularities. Other signs, such as changes in complexion or an outbreak of acne might be caused due to hormonal imbalance and can affect your fertility.

7. Changes in the genital area. Visible signs of change or abnormality in your genital area (primarily the vagina), such as dilated veins or swelling, might indicate a blockage that could prevent pregnancy. 

Keep a lookout for these signs. Also, if your male partner has a current or past issue with his genitals, namely the testicles or prostate, it can lead to reproductive problems. 

If you are experiencing any of the above signs, please consult your gynaecologist or a fertility specialist to know in detail about infertility and its timely treatment.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.