Infertility is defined as trying to get pregnant (with frequent intercourse) for at least a year
with no success. Female infertility causes can be difficult to diagnose. There are many
available treatments, which will depend on the cause of infertility.
The main symptom of infertility is the inability to get pregnant. A menstrual cycle that's too
long (35 days or more), too short (less than 21 days), irregular or absent can mean that you're
not ovulating. There may be no other outward signs or symptoms.
When to seek help sometimes depends on your age:
Up to age 35, most doctors recommend trying to get pregnant for at least a year before
testing or treatment.
If you're between 35 and 40, discuss your concerns with your doctor after six months of
If you're older than 40, your doctor may want to begin testing or treatment right away.
Your doctor may also want to begin testing or treatment right away if you or your partner has
known fertility problems, or if you have a history of irregular or painful periods, pelvic
inflammatory disease, repeated miscarriages, prior cancer treatment, or endometriosis.
Each of these factors is essential to become pregnant:
You need to ovulate. To get pregnant, your ovaries must produce and release an egg, a
process known as ovulation. Your doctor can help evaluate your menstrual cycles and
Your partner needs sperm. For most couples, this isn't a problem unless your partner
has a history of illness or surgery. Your doctor can run some simple tests to evaluate the
health of your partner's sperm.
You need to have regular intercourse. You need to have regular sexual intercourse
during your fertile time. Your doctor can help you better understand when you're most
You need to have open fallopian tubes and a normal uterus. The egg and sperm meet
in the fallopian tubes, and the embryo needs a healthy uterus in which to grow.
For pregnancy to occur, every step of the human reproduction process has to happen
correctly. The steps in this process are:
One of the two ovaries releases a mature egg.
The egg is picked up by the fallopian tube.
Sperm swim up the cervix, through the uterus and into the fallopian tube to reach the egg
The fertilized egg travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus.
The fertilized egg implants and grows in the uterus.
In women, a number of factors can disrupt this process at any step. Female infertility is
caused by one or more of the factors below.
Ovulation disorders, meaning you ovulate infrequently or not at all, account for infertility in
about 1 in 4 infertile couples. Problems with the regulation of reproductive hormones by the
hypothalamus or the pituitary gland, or problems in the ovary, can cause ovulation disorders.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS causes a hormone imbalance, which affects
ovulation. PCOS is associated with insulin resistance and obesity, abnormal hair growth
on the face or body, and acne. It's the most common cause of female infertility.
Hypothalamic dysfunction. Two hormones produced by the pituitary gland are
responsible for stimulating ovulation each month — (FSH) and luteinizing hormone
(LH). Excess physical or emotional stress, a very high or very low body weight, or a
recent substantial weight gain or loss can disrupt production of these hormones and affect
ovulation. Irregular or absent periods are the most common signs.
Premature ovarian failure. Also called primary ovarian insufficiency, this disorder is
usually caused by an autoimmune response or by premature loss of eggs from your ovary
(possibly from genetics or chemotherapy). The ovary no longer produces eggs, and it
lowers estrogen production in women under the age of 40.
Too much prolactin. The pituitary gland may cause excess production of prolactin
(hyperprolactinemia), which reduces estrogen production and may cause infertility.
Usually related to a pituitary gland problem, this can also be caused by medications
you're taking for another disease.
Damage to fallopian tubes (tubal infertility)
Damaged or blocked fallopian tubes keep sperm from getting to the egg or block the passage
of the fertilized egg into the uterus. Causes of fallopian tube damage or blockage can include:
Pelvic inflammatory disease, an infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes due to
chlamydia, gonorrhea or other sexually transmitted infections
Previous surgery in the abdomen or pelvis, including surgery for ectopic pregnancy, in
which a fertilized egg implants and develops in a fallopian tube instead of the uterus
Pelvic tuberculosis, a major cause of tubal infertility worldwide
Endometriosis occurs when tissue that normally grows in the uterus implants and grows in
other locations. This extra tissue growth — and the surgical removal of it — can cause
scarring, which may block fallopian tubes and keep an egg and sperm from uniting.
Endometriosis can also affect the lining of the uterus, disrupting implantation of the fertilized
egg. The condition also seems to affect fertility in less-direct ways, such as damage to the
sperm or egg.
Uterine or cervical causes
Several uterine or cervical causes can impact fertility by interfering with implantation or
increasing the likelihood of a miscarriage:
Benign polyps or tumors (fibroids or myomas) are common in the uterus. Some can block
fallopian tubes or interfere with implantation, affecting fertility. However, many women
who have fibroids or polyps do become pregnant.
Endometriosis scarring or inflammation within the uterus can disrupt implantation.
Uterine abnormalities present from birth, such as an abnormally shaped uterus, can cause
problems becoming or remaining pregnant.
Cervical stenosis, a narrowing of the cervix, can be caused by an inherited malformation
or damage to the cervix.
Sometimes the cervix can't produce the best type of mucus to allow the sperm to travel
through the cervix into the uterus.
Sometimes, the cause of infertility is never found. A combination of several minor factors in
both partners could cause unexplained fertility problems. Although it's frustrating to get no
specific answer, this problem may correct itself with time. But, you shouldn't delay treatment
Certain factors may put you at higher risk of infertility, including:
Age. The quality and quantity of a woman's eggs begin to decline with increasing age. In
the mid-30s, the rate of follicle loss speeds, resulting in fewer and poorer quality eggs.
This makes conception more difficult, and increases the risk of miscarriage.
Smoking. Besides damaging your cervix and fallopian tubes, smoking increases your risk
of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. It's also thought to age your ovaries and deplete
your eggs prematurely. Stop smoking before beginning fertility treatment.
Weight. Being overweight or significantly underweight may affect normal ovulation.
Getting to a healthy body mass index (BMI) may increase the frequency of ovulation and
likelihood of pregnancy.
Sexual history. Sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea can
damage the fallopian tubes. Having unprotected intercourse with multiple partners
increases your risk of a sexually transmitted infection that may cause fertility problems
Alcohol. Stick to moderate alcohol consumption of no more than one alcoholic drink per
If you're a woman thinking about getting pregnant soon or in the future, you may improve
your chances of having normal fertility if you:
Maintain a normal weight. Overweight and underweight women are at increased risk of
ovulation disorders. If you need to lose weight, exercise moderately. Strenuous, intense
exercise of more than five hours a week has been associated with decreased ovulation.
Quit smoking. Tobacco has multiple negative effects on fertility, not to mention your
general health and the health of a fetus. If you smoke and are considering pregnancy, quit
Avoid alcohol. Heavy alcohol use may lead to decreased fertility. And any alcohol use
can affect the health of a developing fetus. If you're planning to become pregnant, avoid
alcohol, and don't drink alcohol while you're pregnant.
Reduce stress. Some studies have shown that couples experiencing psychological stress
had poorer results with infertility treatment. If you can, find a way to reduce stress in your
life before trying to become pregnant.
Limit caffeine. Research suggests that limiting caffeine intake to less than 200
milligrams a day shouldn't affect your ability to get pregnant. That's about one to two
cups of 6 to 8 ounces of coffee per day.
If you've been unable to conceive within a reasonable period of time, seek help from your
doctor for evaluation and treatment of infertility.
Fertility tests may include:
Ovulation testing. An at-home, over-the-counter ovulation prediction kit detects the surge in
luteinizing hormone (LH) that occurs before ovulation. A blood test for progesterone — a
hormone produced after ovulation — can also document that you're ovulating. Other hormone
levels, such as prolactin, also may be checked.
Hysterosalpingography. During hysterosalpingography (his-tur-o-sal-ping-GOG-ruh-fee), X-ray
contrast is injected into your uterus and an X-ray is taken to detect abnormalities in the uterine
cavity. The test also determines whether the fluid passes out of the uterus and spills out of your
fallopian tubes. If abnormalities are found, you'll likely need further evaluation. In a few women,
the test itself can improve fertility, possibly by flushing out and opening the fallopian tubes.
Ovarian reserve testing. This testing helps determine the quality and quantity of eggs available
for ovulation. Women at risk of a depleted egg supply — including women older than 35 — may
have this series of blood and imaging tests.
Other hormone testing. Other hormone tests check levels of ovulatory hormones as well as
thyroid and pituitary hormones that control reproductive processes.
Imaging tests. A pelvic ultrasound looks for uterine or fallopian tube disease. Sometimes a
hysterosonography (his-tur-o-suh-NOG-ruh-fee) is used to see details inside the uterus that can't
be seen on a regular ultrasound.
Depending on your situation, rarely your testing may include:
Other imaging tests. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may request a hysteroscopy to
look for uterine or fallopian tube disease.
Laparoscopy. This minimally invasive surgery involves making a small incision beneath your
navel and inserting a thin viewing device to examine your fallopian tubes, ovaries and uterus. A
laparoscopy may identify endometriosis, scarring, blockages or irregularities of the fallopian
tubes, and problems with the ovaries and uterus.
Genetic testing. Genetic testing helps determine whether there's a genetic defect causing
Infertility treatment depends on the cause, your age, how long you've been infertile and
personal preferences. Because infertility is a complex disorder, treatment involves significant
financial, physical, psychological and time commitments.
Although some women need just one or two therapies to restore fertility, it's possible that
several different types of treatment may be needed.
Treatments can either attempt to restore fertility through medication or surgery, or help you
get pregnant with sophisticated techniques.
Fertility restoration: Stimulating ovulation with fertility drugs
Fertility drugs regulate or stimulate ovulation. Fertility drugs are the main treatment for
women who are infertile due to ovulation disorders.
Fertility drugs generally work like the natural hormones — follicle-stimulating hormone
(FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) — to trigger ovulation. They're also used in women
who ovulate to try to stimulate a better egg or an extra egg or eggs. Fertility drugs may
Clomiphene citrate. Clomiphene (Clomid) is taken by mouth and stimulates ovulation by
causing the pituitary gland to release more FSH and LH, which stimulate the growth of an ovarian
follicle containing an egg.
Gonadotropins. Instead of stimulating the pituitary gland to release more hormones, these
injected treatments stimulate the ovary directly to produce multiple eggs. Gonadotropin
medications include human menopausal gonadotropin or hMG (Menopur) and FSH (Gonal-F,
Follistim AQ, Bravelle). Another gonadotropin, human chorionic gonadotropin (Ovidrel,
Pregnyl), is used to mature the eggs and trigger their release at the time of ovulation. Concerns
exist that there's a higher risk of conceiving multiples and having a premature delivery with
Metformin. Metformin (Glucophage, others) is used when insulin resistance is a known or
suspected cause of infertility, usually in women with a diagnosis of PCOS. Metformin helps
improve insulin resistance, which can improve the likelihood of ovulation.
Letrozole. Letrozole (Femara) belongs to a class of drugs known as aromatase inhibitors and
works in a similar fashion to clomiphene. Letrozole may induce ovulation. However, the effect
this medication has on early pregnancy isn't yet known, so it isn't used for ovulation induction as
frequently as others.
Bromocriptine. Bromocriptine (Cycloset), a dopamine agonist, may be used when ovulation
problems are caused by excess production of prolactin (hyperprolactinemia) by the pituitary
Risks of fertility drugs
Using fertility drugs carries some risks, such as:
Pregnancy with multiples. Oral medications carry a fairly low risk of multiples (less
than 10 percent) and mostly a risk of twins. Your chances increase up to 30 percent with
injectable medications. Injectable fertility medications also carry the major risk of triplets
or more (higher order multiple pregnancy).
Generally, the more fetuses you're carrying, the greater the risk of premature labor, low
birth weight and later developmental problems. Sometimes adjusting medications can
lower the risk of multiples, if too many follicles develop.
Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). Injecting fertility drugs to induce
ovulation can cause OHSS, which causes swollen and painful ovaries. Signs and
symptoms usually go away without treatment, and include mild abdominal pain, bloating,
nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
If you become pregnant, however, your symptoms might last several weeks. Rarely, it's
possible to develop a more-severe form of OHSS that can also cause rapid weight gain,
enlarged painful ovaries, fluid in the abdomen and shortness of breath.
Long-term risks of ovarian tumors. Most studies of women using fertility drugs suggest
that there are few if any long-term risks. However, a few studies suggest that women
taking fertility drugs for 12 or more months without a successful pregnancy may be at
increased risk of borderline ovarian tumors later in life.
en who never have pregnancies have an increased risk of ovarian tumors, so it may
be related to the underlying problem rather than the treatment. Since success rates are
typically higher in the first few treatment cycles, re-evaluating medication use every few
months and concentrating on the treatments that have the most success appear to be
Fertility restoration: Surgery
Several surgical procedures can correct problems or otherwise improve female fertility.
However, surgical treatments for fertility are rare these days due to the success of other
treatments. They include:
Laparoscopic or hysteroscopic surgery. These surgeries can remove or correct abnormalities to
help improve your chances of getting pregnant. Surgery might involve correcting an abnormal
uterine shape, removing endometrial polyps and some types of fibroids that misshape the uterine
cavity, or removing pelvic or uterine adhesions.
Tubal surgeries. If your fallopian tubes are blocked or filled with fluid (hydrosalpinx), your
doctor may recommend laparoscopic surgery to remove adhesions, dilate a tube or create a new
tubal opening. This surgery is rare, as pregnancy rates are usually better with IVF. For
hydrosalpinx, removal of your tubes (salpingectomy) or blocking the tubes close to the uterus can
improve your chances of pregnancy with IVF.
The most commonly used methods of reproductive assistance include:
Intrauterine insemination (IUI). During IUI, millions of healthy sperm are placed inside the
uterus close to the time of ovulation.
Assisted reproductive technology. This involves retrieving mature eggs from a woman,
fertilizing them with a man's sperm in a dish in a lab, then transferring the embryos into the uterus
after fertilization. IVF is the most effective assisted reproductive technology. An IVF cycle takes
several weeks and requires frequent blood tests and daily hormone injections.
Coping and support
Dealing with female infertility can be physically and emotionally exhausting. To cope with
the ups and downs of infertility testing and treatment, consider these strategies:
Be prepared.The uncertainty of infertility testing and treatments can be difficult and stressful.
Ask your doctor to explain the steps for your therapy to help you and your partner prepare.
Understanding the process may help reduce your anxiety.
Seek support. Although infertility can be a deeply personal issue, reach out to your partner, close
family members or friends, or a professional for support. Many online support groups allow you
to maintain your anonymity while you discuss issues related to infertility.
Exercise and eat a healthy diet. Keeping up a moderate exercise routine and eating healthy
foods can improve your outlook and keep you focused on living your life despite fertility
Consider other options. Determine alternatives — adoption, donor sperm or egg, or even having
no children — as early as possible in the infertility treatment process. This can reduce anxiety
during treatments and disappointment if conception doesn't occur.
Removal of Tubal block(s)
FollicularStudy & Investigations
Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)
ART includes all fertility treatments in which both eggs & sperms are handled. In general, an ART procedure involves eggs retrieval from the ovaries, combining them with sperm in the laboratory and returning them to uterus.
Intra-Uterine Insemination (IUI), Donor IUI
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is the process by which sperm is deposited in a woman's uterus through artificial means. For many couples, this is a less invasive and more affordable alternative to IVF.
In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF)
IVF is a multi-step process in which eggs (oocytes) are extracted from the woman's ovary (where the eggs are produced), fertilized by sperm in a laboratory, cultured into early embryos and then transferred into the woman's uterus.
Embryo transfer (ET) is a simple procedure that follows in vitro fertilization (IVF) and is often considered the final step of the in-vitro fertilization process.
Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI)
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection is a procedure where a single sperm is injected into an egg with the help of micromanipulator instrument, and once fertilized embryos are placed into uterus.
Gamete Intrafallopian transfer (GIFT)
Gamete Intrafallopian transfer is a procedure where retrieved eggs and sperms are placed together in fallopian tube & fertilization happens inside your body and the embryo implants naturally. Although, this procedure was once commonly practiced, it's rarely used today because the success with IVF is greater.
Oocyte, Embryo Donation
TESA(Testicular Sperm Extraction)
A fine needle is inserted into the testis and sample of tissue are obtained by gentle suction and examined under the microscope. If sperm are not found, a small tissue sample (testicular biopsy) is taken through a small incision in the scrotum and testis; sperm can then be extracted from the tissue. The cut is stitched back together with a couple of stitches.
TESE (Testicular Sperm Extraction)
involves retrieving sperm directly from the testis.
MESA (Micro Epididymal Sperm Aspiration)
A procedure to aspirate sperm from the epididymis.
PESA (Percutaneous Sperm Aspiration)
This is the first choice to collect sperm. A fine needle is inserted through the scrotum into the epididymis and sperm are obtained by gentle suction. After each sample is collected, it is examined under the microscope to confirm the presence of sperm.