8 Health Problems That Can Make It Harder To Get Pregnant
You might be in a phase of life where you're not entirely sure what you want things to look like in the future. What kind of job do you see yourself in long-term? Do you want to live in the city or in a quieter area? Do you want kids someday? While you might not know for sure if you want a child yet, it might be helpful to know what to expect in the event that you or your partner decide to get pregnant. For some folks conceiving a child takes a while. Others might be dealing with health problems that can make it harder to get pregnant. If you're curious about what specific conditions might affect your chances of conceiving, some experts have some advice.
A number of lifestyle choices can affect your fertility, regardless of your gender, Dr. Joshua Hurwitz, board certified in both obstetrics and gynecology, reproductive endocrinology and infertility, tells Bustle. Smoking, for example, is toxic to everyone's reproductive health, he says. A number of uncontrolled medical issues can also cause a problem, so if you're hoping to get pregnant, make sure that you don't ignore any negative health symptoms, but instead visit a doctor if anything seems amiss. If you're taking care of your own body as best you can, you're more likely to conceive, says Dr. Hurwitz, so care for yourself as you're exploring the possibility of pregnancy.
Here are a few health conditions that can affect your chances of getting pregnant, according to experts.
1. Premature Ovarian Failure
It can be easy to mistake premature ovarian failure (POF) with early menopause, because it comes with symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and no periods. Surprisingly, Corey Burke, an andrologist and embryologist with Cryos International, tells Bustle, the average age for diagnosis is 27, and the condition affects 1 in 1,000 people with ovaries between the ages of 15 and 29. With POF, a person's ovaries stop functioning the way they're supposed to, he says. "Infertility is a common result." After a POF diagnosis, treatments like hormone replacement therapy or vitamin D and calcium supplements can potentially help. While Burke says that treatment may not restore fertility, getting pregnant through IVF is still a great option to explore.
2. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
"Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is an infection of the uterus and Fallopian tubes due to chlamydia, gonorrhea, or trauma," says Burke. "It may cause scar tissue or abscesses in the Fallopian tubes resulting in damage to the reproductive organs and infertility." While this may sound terrifying, it's actually very common, affecting approximately one million women every year, he says. With an antibiotic prescription from your doctor, the infection will likely clear. PID can be a little tricky since it doesn't show symptoms in the early stages, but over time, you'll likely notice things like pain during sex, fever or chills, and more severe periods.
You might not expect something like hypothyroidism to have an effect on your chances of getting pregnant, but Dr. Jolene Brighten, a functional medicine naturopathic medical doctor and author of Beyond the Pill, tells Bustle that it can not only make it difficult to conceive, but also increase the risk of miscarriage. "Having thyroid testing before trying to conceive and once you do become pregnant can help your doctor decide if medication is needed," she says. "If this is the cause of your infertility, beginning on a thyroid medication may help you become pregnant and stay pregnant. According to one study, about 24 percent of people with uteruses who were struggling with infertility had hypothyroidism.
4. Certain Medications
"If you've been on a medication that is known to deplete nutrients you may find it difficult to become pregnant or maintain the pregnancy," Dr. Brighten says. "For example, hormonal birth control depletes crucial nutrients for fertility like folate, B12, selenium, and vitamin C." While having been (or currently being) on birth control doesn't mean you can't get pregnant in the future, making sure that you have all the nutrients you need is important for your health and a potential baby's health. Luckily, these nutrients can be replenished through eating whole foods and taking a quality prenatal vitamin, she says, so consult with your doctor or dietitian to find foods that work for you and your potential pregnancy.
Something as seemingly unrelated as inflammation can make your journey to pregnancy more difficult, says Dr. Brighten. "Having your doctor test C-Reactive Protein (CRP) can help you identify if you have inflammation so you can treat it accordingly," she says. Try adding cold water fish like Alaskan salmon or cod (which are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids) to your lifestyle, as well as turmeric. "Depending on the cause of the inflammation, more intervention may be needed," says Dr. Brighten. With your doctor's guidance, you might need to make lifestyle changes or take a medication.
5. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal disorder of women in their reproductive years, affecting 5 to 20 percent of that population, Mark P. Trolice, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN, reproductive endocrinologist, and founder and director of Fertility CARE: The IVF Center, tells Bustle. Watch out for symptoms like irregular periods and hair growth in new areas, he says. While there is no cure for the disorder, many of the accompanying medical issues can be addressed, and once those are resolved, you can explore options like oral medications, surgery to induce ovulation, and IVF.
6. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can negatively affect your chances of getting pregnant, says Dr. Hurwitz. "Speak to your OB/GYN and your doctors that are helping you to manage these conditions," he says. "They will help you be as medically optimized as possible so you can try to get pregnant." Just do your best not to wait to receive treatment, as the sooner you take care of these conditions, the better.
7. Certain Immune Conditions
Dr. Jason Kofinas, an expert in fertility medicine, tells Bustle that a number of immune conditions — sometimes obvious and sometimes not so obvious — can make it more difficult to conceive and increase the risk of miscarriage. "Immune problems can affect someone’s overall health and life span," he says. But any immune condition can be confirmed with a test built to identify abnormalities. "Whether it be blood test, ultrasounds, or even laparoscopy, these conditions can be identified and treated by a physician who has specialized knowledge on these particular issues," says Dr. Kofinas. For example, endometriosis, diabetes, and autoimmune blood clotting disorders all have autoimmune components that can lower fertility rates. Treating each of these conditions could potentially make it easier to get pregnant.
"Adenomyosis occurs when endometrial tissue grows into the muscles of the uterus," Dr. Janelle Luk, reproductive endocrinologist and medical director and co-founder of Generation Next Fertility, tells Bustle. "This may lead to anatomical changes that block migrating sperm or hinder proper embryo implantation," she says, "which reduce chances of pregnancy." But it's definitely possible to have a healthy pregnancy, depending on the severity of the condition. Treatment like anti-inflammatory medications, hormonal medications, or surgical procedures to remove excess tissue can help increase your pregnancy chances. If there are still problems, IVF is an option for someone with adenomyosis.
If you're worried that you might have one of these health conditions and it could hurt your chances of getting pregnant, try to speak with your doctor before you let yourself get too worried. They'll be able to tell you what all of your options are. If infertility is an issue that you'll have to face, you can decide whether pursuing IVF, using a surrogate, or adopting a child is best for you.