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Infertility in women is a disorder of the reproductive system that prevents the body’s ability to ovulate and conceive (or carry an infant to term). A couple is considered infertile when they have not conceived after a full year of regular sexual intercourse without using contraception. Couple infertility may be due to male factors, female factors, or a combination of both.

A successful pregnancy involves many steps. First, a healthy egg must be released from a woman’s ovaries (ovulation) and travel to the fallopian tube. There, it is fertilized by a man’s sperm. If fertilization occurs, the fertilized egg then moves down the fallopian tube to the uterus. The embryo secures itself to the uterine wall. This begins the 38-40 week journey from embryo to fetus to baby. Problems can occur at anytime during this process.

Female Reproductive Organs

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Infertility affects an estimated 10% of women aged 15-44 in the United States. Age-related ability to have a successful pregnancy is well documented. Success rates begin to decline at age 35 and are severely reduced by age 40 in women.

Common causes of infertility in women include:

  • Menstrual cycle dysfunction—the most common cause of infertility in women (failure to ovulate)
  • Problems with ovulation—something affects the development and release of an egg by the ovary
  • Fallopian tube blockage—present from birth or may result from surgery, trauma, or infection in the pelvic area
  • Endometriosis —results when tissue from the uterine lining is found outside the uterus
References:

Diabetes and women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq142.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20121022T1326109439. Accessed October 22, 2012.

Fritz MC, Speroff L. Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinolgy and Infertility. Section IV: Infertility. 8th ed. New York, NY: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins; 2011.

Infertility. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 23, 2012. Accessed October 22, 2012.

Infertility fact sheet. Women's Health.gov website. Available at: http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/infertility.cfm. Updated July 1, 2009. Accessed October 22, 2012.

Last reviewed October 2012 by Andrea Chisholm

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.