Even if you’re not thinking about having children or becoming pregnant any time soon, it’s not a bad idea to learn how to spot the signs that you might be infertile or have fertility issues. Fertility problems are much more common — in both men and women — than you might think: the CDC reports that 6.7 million American women are either unable to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term. Additionally, the CDC reports that 7.5 percent of all sexually experienced men under the age of 45 in the U.S. have seen a medical professional regarding fertility issues — meaning that 3.3 to 4.7 million American men have sought help with fertility in their lifetimes.
10 percent of couples in the U.S. are affected by infertility. Of those couples, one-third of them are diagnosed as infertile due to issues with female infertility, one-third of the diagnoses are related to male infertility, and 20 percent of those couples are infertile for reasons that can’t be ascertained. For women, the biggest sign of infertility is finding that they are unable to get pregnant after one full year of having unprotected sex — but there are other ways to tell if you might be experiencing fertility issues that don’t involve a year of attempted baby-making.
Here are nine signs that you might be infertile or have fertility issues. However, if any of these sound familiar to you, don’t panic — none of these symptoms are absolute signs that fertility problems are down the road for you, and many of them only cause temporary fertility issues, until the conditions are properly treated. If you experience these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns. And if you do find out that you have a condition that can negatively impact your fertility, know that you’re not alone, and that many treatment options are available if you’re interested in seeking help.
1. Your Flow Is Way Off
If you’ve noticed that your periods have been way heavier than normal lately, you should know that heavy menstrual bleeding (or menorhhagia) can be a sign of some health issues that can cause infertility. Menorhhagia can have many different causes — certain medications, IUDs, and even complications with pregnancies can cause heavy vaginal bleeding. However, the most common cause of menorhhagia is a hormone imbalance which results in menstrual cycles without ovulation.
“In a normal cycle, the release of an egg from the ovaries stimulates the body’s production of progesterone, the female hormone most responsible for keeping periods regular. When no egg is released, insufficient progesterone can cause heavy menstrual bleeding.”
As you probably already know, if you’re not ovulating, then you can’t get pregnant. So women who experience heavy flow due to this reason are infertile. But even if you’re not dealing with menorhhagia, it’s not a bad idea for you to talk to your gynecologist about any abnormal changes in your flow — because heavy periods can also mean that you’re dealing with some other health issue, such as a bleeding disorder.
2. Your Periods Are Super Irregular
If your periods are occasionally off by a few days, that’s probably not a big deal. If your periods are so irregular that you gave up on tracking your menstrual cycle a long time ago, though, then their irregularity could be a sign of a problem. Irregular periods can indicate that you’re not ovulating — and if you’re not ovulating, then you can’t get pregnant. Unfortunately, irregular ovulation (which is clinically referred to as anovulation) accounts for 30 to 40 percent of all female infertility cases. Luckily, treatments for anovulation do exist, so if you are diagnosed with this and want to become pregnant some day, know that things aren’t hopeless.
3. You Don’t Have Periods At All
If you have never had a period, or you used to have them but they suddenly stopped altogether (and not because you chose to stop your period with medication), then you’re definitely not ovulating — and ovulation is a crucial piece of the fertility puzzle. So, if you don’t have periods at all, that’s a pretty clear sign you could be infertile.
Make an appointment with your gynecologist just to be sure — there’s always a chance your periods might have stopped for a different reason. Whatever the reason is, however, it’s important that you take the time to find out why your periods stopped ASAP — and what you can do to take care of your health.
4. Your Periods Are Incredibly Painful
Pain during periods don’t always indicate infertility — many of us have suffered from period cramps so bad at times that they’ve made us vomit, but don’t have fertility issues. So if your periods are painful, don’t immediately freak out.
That said, if you suffer from serious period pain, pain during sex, abnormal vaginal bleeding, rectal pain, or you’ve noticed blood in your urine or bowl movements, that could mean you have undiagnosed endometriosis.
Seven million women in the U.S. have endometriosis — 20 to 40 percent of infertile women also have endometriosis, which can make it hard to conceive. So if your periods are crazy painful, talk to your doctor about it — they can help you figure out what’s going on, and how to feel better.
5. You’ve Suddenly Developed Severe Acne
Changes in your skin, like the onset of adult acne from seemingly nowhere, could be a sign that your hormone levels are off. More specifically, sudden severe acne could mean that you’re suffering from polycistic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). According to Womenshealth.gov, “Between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 women of childbearing age has PCOS. As many as 5 million women in the United States may be affected.”
PCOS occurs in women who have an excess of androgens, also referred to as “male hormones.” Like endometriosis, PCOS can cause irregular ovulation, or lack of ovulation. Because of this, PCOS can mess with your fertility. So, if your acne is out of control, see your doctor about it. It might not have anything to do with your fertility, but it’s worth your time to find out.
6. You’ve Noticed Dark Hair Growing In New Places On Your Body
Since PCOS occurs when ovaries produce more androgens than they’re supposed to, women with PCOS usually have to deal with unwanted facial and/or body hair. If you’ve started growing excess, dark facial and/or body hair yourself, recognize this as a possible sign that you could be suffering from undiagnosed PCOS. As we’ve discussed, PCOS can make getting pregnant difficult.
That said, PCOS is treatable, and it doesn’t always mean your chances of having a biological child are slim. In fact, with the help of medication, my older sister was able to give birth to two baby daughters, despite being diagnosed with PCOS. So don’t be too scared to talk to your doctor about this — your quality of life can only improve from having all of the facts.
7. You’re Experiencing Hair Loss — Or Your Hair Is Thinning
Female hair loss can happen for several reasons, and not all of them are directly related to fertility. Autoimmune diseases, thyroid problems, anemia, psoriasis, and even pregnancy as possible causes for female hair loss. That said, thinning hair and hair loss are also symptoms of PCOS — which, as noted above, can make conception a struggle. So if you’ve started losing hair, then get it checked out.
8. Your Sex Drive Has Decreased Dramatically
A major decrease in your sex drive could signify lots of things besides infertility. Your drop in desire might just mean you’re extremely stressed out or depressed. Certain medications can mess with sex drive, too. However, it’s worth noting that endometriosis can cause women’s sexual desire to decrease, and it can also cause sex to be extremely painful for some women — as well as make it harder to get pregnant.
Again, only your doctor can tell you for certain if your lack of sex drive points to fertility issues; so if this sounds like you, make an appointment with your general physician to discuss what this means — it may have nothing to do with your fertility, but it is worth getting a handle on.
9. You’re Gaining Weight For No Clear Reason
Unexplained weight gain can be yet another sign of PCOS. In addition to having an excess of androgens, women with PCOS also have a higher resistance to insulin. This makes most women who suffer from the hormonal disorder gain weight despite not changing their diets or levels of activity. So if you seem to gain weight for no reason — especially if this wasn’t always the case for you — get it checked out.
Again, none of these symptoms are sure signs of infertility, or reasons to freak out. But they do all suggest that you might be experiencing some kind of health problems — so make an appointment with your doctor if they sound familiar, even if you’re not planning on getting pregnant soon (or ever).