FEMALE INFERTILITY

At any stage along the way, from the development of a woman’s eggs and ovaries before birth to the migration of a fertilized egg into her uterus, this intricate reproductive process can go astray. Infertility has been linked to many different factors, all of which influence the normal course of conception.

Approximately one-third of female infertility is caused by a failure to ovulate, a condition known as anovulation. Unless ovulation takes place, there is no egg available for the sperm to fertilize. A balance of hormones is necessary for ovulation to occur successfully. Two small glands located in your brain, the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, regulate most of these hormonal responses.

The hypothalamus secretes gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which stimulates the pituitary gland to relay hormonal messages to the ovaries. In response to these messages, the ovaries nurture an egg to maturity and release it into the fallopian tubes, ready to be fertilized. Many factors can interfere with the performance of your hypothalamus, preventing it from sending the correct signals to the pituitary gland. Emotional stress, extreme exercise, dieting, poor nutrition, low body fat, anorexia, medications and environmental toxins can all affect the hypothalamus. When the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland are unable to communicate effectively, conception is disrupted.

The pituitary gland contributes to conception by producing two hormones, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). These hormones stimulate the follicles in the ovaries to grow and release mature eggs. They also tell the ovaries to produce estrogen and progesterone. The pituitary gland may malfunction because of a tumor, an injury, surgical complications or various medical disorders. A defective pituitary gland can over- or under-produce FSH and LH, resulting in ovulation failure.

The pituitary gland also produces prolactin, a hormone involved in the production of breast milk. Prolactin has the effect of suppressing ovulation, acting as a natural form of birth control during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The pituitary gland may secrete too much prolactin due to severe kidney disease, adrenal gland disorders,

hypothyroidism and the effect of certain medications. Ten to 20 percent of infertile women have elevated levels of prolactin.

Other glands can affect hormones involved in conception, too. The thyroid gland is one example. This gland establishes your metabolic rate by circulating hormones to control the speed and efficiency of your internal functions. If the thyroid gland becomes overactive (hyperthyroid) or underactive (hypothyroid), it can speed up or slow down your body’s ability to use hormones, causing problems with fertility.

Although you may not realize it, every woman has small amounts of male sex hormones, called androgens, circulating through her bloodstream. These hormones are secreted by the adrenal glands and are necessary for normal sexual development. If your adrenal glands malfunction, the elevated levels of male hormones will suppress ovulation. Excessive androgen production is a sign that you may be suffering from a very common disorder known as polycystic ovary syndrome (read chapter 19 for more information), one of the leading causes of female infertility.

There are a variety of ovarian disorders, including cysts, tumors, infections and medical conditions, that can cause infertility. For some women, their ovaries simply fail to function: due to surgery, injury, radiation or chromosomal problems, their ovaries run out of eggs too early, sending them into premature menopause. In rare instances, women are born without ovaries or without a normal supply of eggs, making ovulation impossible.

Several disorders of the uterus can also hamper conception. During the normal reproductive process, progesterone and luteinizing hormone stimulate the uterine lining to thicken into a nourishing bed for the fertilized egg. If the uterus is unable to respond to these hormones, the egg cannot implant properly. The result is usually a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. Some women find it difficult to carry a fetus to full term because their uterus is structurally abnormal. Others discover that they are infertile because they were born without a uterus.

Infections that affect the reproductive tract are another cause of infertility. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and pelvic inflammatory disease are on the rise in North America, and are destroying the fertility of thousands of women every year. These insidious infections can go undetected for long periods of time and, if left untreated, can scar your uterus, block your fallopian tubes and cause the formation of pelvic adhesions. Even frequent yeast infections (vaginitis) can cause tubal damage that is severe enough to prevent the sperm from intercepting the egg. Abdominal or pelvic surgery, appendicitis, endometriosis, ectopic pregnancies or the use of an IUD contraceptive device may also cause uterine or tubal damage. Occasionally, the use of oral contraceptives may delay ovulation for as long as six months, causing temporary infertility.

Many women fail to realize that diet, nutrition and lifestyle can also influence fertility. Excessive exercise, low-calorie diets, eating disorders, obesity, certain medications, elevated stress levels—even the use of vaginal lubricants—are all factors that will interfere with the reproductive process. Fortunately, these are among the easiest fertility problems to correct.

At any stage along the way, from the development of a woman’s eggs and ovaries before birth to the migration of a fertilized egg into her uterus, this intricate reproductive process can go astray. Infertility has been linked to many different factors, all of which influence the normal course of conception.

Approximately one-third of female infertility is caused by a failure to ovulate, a condition known as anovulation. Unless ovulation takes place, there is no egg available for the sperm to fertilize. A balance of hormones is necessary for ovulation to occur successfully. Two small glands located in your brain, the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, regulate most of these hormonal responses.

The hypothalamus secretes gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which stimulates the pituitary gland to relay hormonal messages to the ovaries. In response to these messages, the ovaries nurture an egg to maturity and release it into the fallopian tubes, ready to be fertilized. Many factors can interfere with the performance of your hypothalamus, preventing it from sending the correct signals to the pituitary gland. Emotional stress, extreme exercise, dieting, poor nutrition, low body fat, anorexia, medications and environmental toxins can all affect the hypothalamus. When the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland are unable to communicate effectively, conception is disrupted.

The pituitary gland contributes to conception by producing two hormones, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). These hormones stimulate the follicles in the ovaries to grow and release mature eggs. They also tell the ovaries to produce estrogen and progesterone. The pituitary gland may malfunction because of a tumor, an injury, surgical complications or various medical disorders. A defective pituitary gland can over- or under-produce FSH and LH, resulting in ovulation failure.

The pituitary gland also produces prolactin, a hormone involved in the production of breast milk. Prolactin has the effect of suppressing ovulation, acting as a natural form of birth control during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The pituitary gland may secrete too much prolactin due to severe kidney disease, adrenal gland disorders,

hypothyroidism and the effect of certain medications. Ten to 20 percent of infertile women have elevated levels of prolactin.

Other glands can affect hormones involved in conception, too. The thyroid gland is one example. This gland establishes your metabolic rate by circulating hormones to control the speed and efficiency of your internal functions. If the thyroid gland becomes overactive (hyperthyroid) or underactive (hypothyroid), it can speed up or slow down your body’s ability to use hormones, causing problems with fertility.

Although you may not realize it, every woman has small amounts of male sex hormones, called androgens, circulating through her bloodstream. These hormones are secreted by the adrenal glands and are necessary for normal sexual development. If your adrenal glands malfunction, the elevated levels of male hormones will suppress ovulation. Excessive androgen production is a sign that you may be suffering from a very common disorder known as polycystic ovary syndrome (read chapter 19 for more information), one of the leading causes of female infertility.

There are a variety of ovarian disorders, including cysts, tumors, infections and medical conditions, that can cause infertility. For some women, their ovaries simply fail to function: due to surgery, injury, radiation or chromosomal problems, their ovaries run out of eggs too early, sending them into premature menopause. In rare instances, women are born without ovaries or without a normal supply of eggs, making ovulation impossible.

Several disorders of the uterus can also hamper conception. During the normal reproductive process, progesterone and luteinizing hormone stimulate the uterine lining to thicken into a nourishing bed for the fertilized egg. If the uterus is unable to respond to these hormones, the egg cannot implant properly. The result is usually a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. Some women find it difficult to carry a fetus to full term because their uterus is structurally abnormal. Others discover that they are infertile because they were born without a uterus.

Infections that affect the reproductive tract are another cause of infertility. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and pelvic inflammatory disease are on the rise in North America, and are destroying the fertility of thousands of women every year. These insidious infections can go undetected for long periods of time and, if left untreated, can scar your uterus, block your fallopian tubes and cause the formation of pelvic adhesions. Even frequent yeast infections (vaginitis) can cause tubal damage that is severe enough to prevent the sperm from intercepting the egg. Abdominal or pelvic surgery, appendicitis, endometriosis, ectopic pregnancies or the use of an IUD contraceptive device may also cause uterine or tubal damage. Occasionally, the use of oral contraceptives may delay ovulation for as long as six months, causing temporary infertility.

Many women fail to realize that diet, nutrition and lifestyle can also influence fertility. Excessive exercise, low-calorie diets, eating disorders, obesity, certain medications, elevated stress levels—even the use of vaginal lubricants—are all factors that will interfere with the reproductive process. Fortunately, these are among the easiest fertility problems to correct.

At any stage along the way, from the development of a woman’s eggs and ovaries before birth to the migration of a fertilized egg into her uterus, this intricate reproductive process can go astray. Infertility has been linked to many different factors, all of which influence the normal course of conception.

Approximately one-third of female infertility is caused by a failure to ovulate, a condition known as anovulation. Unless ovulation takes place, there is no egg available for the sperm to fertilize. A balance of hormones is necessary for ovulation to occur successfully. Two small glands located in your brain, the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, regulate most of these hormonal responses.

The hypothalamus secretes gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which stimulates the pituitary gland to relay hormonal messages to the ovaries. In response to these messages, the ovaries nurture an egg to maturity and release it into the fallopian tubes, ready to be fertilized. Many factors can interfere with the performance of your hypothalamus, preventing it from sending the correct signals to the pituitary gland. Emotional stress, extreme exercise, dieting, poor nutrition, low body fat, anorexia, medications and environmental toxins can all affect the hypothalamus. When the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland are unable to communicate effectively, conception is disrupted.

The pituitary gland contributes to conception by producing two hormones, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). These hormones stimulate the follicles in the ovaries to grow and release mature eggs. They also tell the ovaries to produce estrogen and progesterone. The pituitary gland may malfunction because of a tumor, an injury, surgical complications or various medical disorders. A defective pituitary gland can over- or under-produce FSH and LH, resulting in ovulation failure.

The pituitary gland also produces prolactin, a hormone involved in the production of breast milk. Prolactin has the effect of suppressing ovulation, acting as a natural form of birth control during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The pituitary gland may secrete too much prolactin due to severe kidney disease, adrenal gland disorders,

hypothyroidism and the effect of certain medications. Ten to 20 percent of infertile women have elevated levels of prolactin.

Other glands can affect hormones involved in conception, too. The thyroid gland is one example. This gland establishes your metabolic rate by circulating hormones to control the speed and efficiency of your internal functions. If the thyroid gland becomes overactive (hyperthyroid) or underactive (hypothyroid), it can speed up or slow down your body’s ability to use hormones, causing problems with fertility.

Although you may not realize it, every woman has small amounts of male sex hormones, called androgens, circulating through her bloodstream. These hormones are secreted by the adrenal glands and are necessary for normal sexual development. If your adrenal glands malfunction, the elevated levels of male hormones will suppress ovulation. Excessive androgen production is a sign that you may be suffering from a very common disorder known as polycystic ovary syndrome (read chapter 19 for more information), one of the leading causes of female infertility.

There are a variety of ovarian disorders, including cysts, tumors, infections and medical conditions, that can cause infertility. For some women, their ovaries simply fail to function: due to surgery, injury, radiation or chromosomal problems, their ovaries run out of eggs too early, sending them into premature menopause. In rare instances, women are born without ovaries or without a normal supply of eggs, making ovulation impossible.

Several disorders of the uterus can also hamper conception. During the normal reproductive process, progesterone and luteinizing hormone stimulate the uterine lining to thicken into a nourishing bed for the fertilized egg. If the uterus is unable to respond to these hormones, the egg cannot implant properly. The result is usually a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. Some women find it difficult to carry a fetus to full term because their uterus is structurally abnormal. Others discover that they are infertile because they were born without a uterus.

Infections that affect the reproductive tract are another cause of infertility. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and pelvic inflammatory disease are on the rise in North America, and are destroying the fertility of thousands of women every year. These insidious infections can go undetected for long periods of time and, if left untreated, can scar your uterus, block your fallopian tubes and cause the formation of pelvic adhesions. Even frequent yeast infections (vaginitis) can cause tubal damage that is severe enough to prevent the sperm from intercepting the egg. Abdominal or pelvic surgery, appendicitis, endometriosis, ectopic pregnancies or the use of an IUD contraceptive device may also cause uterine or tubal damage. Occasionally, the use of oral contraceptives may delay ovulation for as long as six months, causing temporary infertility.

Many women fail to realize that diet, nutrition and lifestyle can also influence fertility. Excessive exercise, low-calorie diets, eating disorders, obesity, certain medications, elevated stress levels—even the use of vaginal lubricants—are all factors that will interfere with the reproductive process. Fortunately, these are among the easiest fertility problems to correct.

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