Whether you're someone whose currently trying to have a baby or you're just considering having children in the future, it's important to be aware of what factors can affect your fertility. Although there's no need to panic about every change in your body, there are some early signs of infertility you shouldn't ignore. Taking care of reproductive issues early on can help improve your chances of having kids down the line, and it can also help you understand your body so you can improve your health overall.
"Being familiar with your cycles can help you identify changes — such as skipped periods or heavier bleeding — that may affect fertility and warrant assessment by a physician," reproductive endocrinologist Paula C. Brady, M.D. of the Columbia University Fertility Center, tells Bustle.
It's important to note that many of these symptoms that relate to infertility can occur and not pose a problem when it comes to conceiving. But they can indicate larger health issues that may make it more difficult to get pregnant down the line. When in doubt, see a reproductive endocrinologist, who can help determine whether or not these symptoms are related to your fertility or not.
Here are seven early red flags of infertility you should look out for, according to experts.
1. Irregular Periods
Irregularities in your cycle can be a sign of an ovulation problem. "On a practical level, irregular or rare ovulation cuts down on the number of chances a couple has to conceive in a year, and it can make prediction of ovulation (and the ‘fertile window’ beforehand) more difficult," Dr. Brady says. "There are many causes of irregular periods, and [there's] no immediate cause for alarm. The assessment will depend on a patient’s age, and medical and reproductive history." And of course, when in doubt, talk about it with your doctor.
2. Skipped Periods
"There are a variety of reasons why you may have a complete absence of periods," reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Roohi Jeelani of the Vios Fertility Institute, tells Bustle. "Most alarmingly, it can be a sign of premature ovarian insufficiency, which means your egg quantity has declined significantly to the point where there aren’t enough eggs to ovulate and periods stop." Since it's impossible to tell what's causing a missed period on your own, see a doctor if are experiencing an absence of menses.
3. Short Menstrual Cycles
"Periods that are shorter then 21 days can be a sign that you have a short follicular phase or a luteal phase defect," Dr. Jeelani says. The follicular phase is the first part of your menstrual cycle that occurs before ovulation, and if it is too short, it could be a sign that your ovary is releasing the egg too soon in your cycle. "This can happen if the egg reserve is starting to run low and the body is producing a higher amount of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), thereby causing a quicker ovulation," she says.
The luteal phase is the second part of your menstrual cycle that occurs after ovulation. If it is short, meaning a period in less than 12 days after ovulation, it can mean that you may have trouble with implantation, Dr. Jeelani says.
4. Painful Periods
Period pain is also something that can indicate fertility issues. "Some women have very painful periods with no obvious cause, while others may have conditions such as endometriosis or adenomyosis, both of which can contribute to infertility," Dr. Brady says. "Very painful periods warrant a visit to the gynecologist to look for a cause."
5. Very Heavy Periods
Heavy periods that involve changing a thick pad or tampon every hour, bleeding through onto clothes, or a significant increase in bleeding volume over months to years, should not go ignored. "They may indicate the presence of fibroids — benign muscle tumors of the uterus that can cause heavy bleeding and affect fertility (but do not always)," Dr. Brady says. "Most gynecologists will start with a physical examination and a pelvic ultrasound to assess for fibroids."
6. Hot Flashes & Night Sweats
"Symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and changes in hair and skin can all be signs of premature menopause," Dr. Jeelani says. "This means your egg quality and quantity might be lower than expected and could interfere with your ability to get pregnant on your own." A family history of very early menopause does not mean a woman will have necessarily have the same issue, but it is something to pay attention to. Getting some basic testing can help you spot any genetic conditions that can cause the numbers of eggs in the ovaries to become low earlier than expected.
7. Unusual Hair Growth & Acne
Excess hair growth and adult acne can be an indication of high levels of testosterone, which can lead to decreased fertility. "You may notice you have darker and coarser hair [...] and have hair in areas such as your upper lip and chin," Dr. Jeelani says. "You may also be experiencing adult-onset acne." A number of issues can cause high testosterone levels, including Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, but if you are experiencing unusual hair growth and acne, see a doctor, who can test your hormone levels.
Although these symptoms are definitely worth paying attention to, they don't necessarily mean you're automatically infertile. Seeing a fertility specialist or gynecologist can help determine the cause of your symptoms and come up with a plan to get your health in check.