A couple's inability to have a baby is something that sadly happens to more couples than most people realize. While many conditions are able to be diagnosed, there's still a surprisingly large percentage that goes either undiagnosed indefinitely or gets diagnosed months or even years down the line. Modern medical practices are much more certain and advanced as far as technology goes, but according to the CDC, ten percent of women face this problem each year in the United States alone. That percentage doesn't seem overly significant until the phrasing is changed: it equates to roughly 6.1 million women. Of those 6.1 million, many will have these problems that have origins unclear to their doctors.
While we are not medical experts, through thorough research we've found 15 of the reasons that doctors may not pin down for being the leading cause of the inability to have a baby between a couple. Many of these sound common but go undiagnosed, while others are a cause that no one would think to blame for the lack of pregnancy. Some are much rarer while others are things we come into contact and deal with potentially every day without realizing it. This list isn't to serve as a comprehensive guide to the world of rare diseases that affect women, but rather to educate and inform couples of the risks that may cause this problem that are often missed either because of their commonality or their rarity.
15 Premature Ovarian Failure: Early Menopause
Premature ovarian failure is a terrifying diagnosis to women who are trying to become pregnant. The chances of it happening are rare, but it does happen nevertheless.
The symptoms for this are easier to spot, however, and essentially trigger an early menopause -- meaning that women who have premature ovarian failure often exhibit signs of hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, and decreased drive, among others.
There is no cure for this occurrence, however, taking extra estrogen can help to prevent further complications that women often see with the early onset of premature menopause. The two should not be confused, however, as menopause is a separate phase that is not connected to premature ovarian failure. Simply put, ovarian failure is brought on due to a disappearance of a women's eggs and can be triggered by several things, including a chromosome defect, various airborne or blood-related toxins, autoimmune disease, or it may remain undiagnosed, which is sadly the case with most women. The main issue with premature ovarian failure is a lack of estrogen which can cause other health issues such an anxiety and depression, osteoporosis, heart disease, and even dementia, premature ovarian failure can be treated but is not something that can be reversed.
14 Food Sensitivity Or Intolerance: Mistaking The Baby For Allergen
Once again, your immune system has a profound impact on your overall health, including reproductive health.
A food sensitivity or allergy can cause immunological infertility, which basically causes an over-reaction of the immune system once an embryo is introduced. The body may see the embryo as foreign and put up natural defenses, much like a food allergen reaction.
This can cause irritation and even inflammation in the gut, which may then have a negative effect on the developing embryo. Since your gut contains 65% of your immune health, according to Natural Fertility Breakthrough, it's not uncommon for pregnancy to also interfere. The problem arises when potential mothers are unaware that they have a food allergy or sensitivity, and do no link symptoms of irritation or illness to the foods they may be eating. While it's rare for a woman to have so many issues conceiving and carrying out pregnancy due to a food sensitivity or intolerance, it's definitely something to consider if infertility seems to be a problem. Something as simple as eliminating a food product such as gluten, sugar, or grains may drastically improve your health, therefore improving your overall chances for conceiving since there won't be any chance for increased irritation or inflammation in the abdominal region.
13 Chronic Stress: Women Don't Tell The Doctor
It's no secret whatsoever that stress can have a severe impact on pregnancy.
Stress can also affect your menstrual cycle as well and even trigger things such as amenorrhea or irregular periods. Either of those can offset your chances of becoming pregnant, and stress is one of those factors that goes unnoticed many times unless you're completely transparent with your doctor.
Stress doesn't just lie on the outside with anxiety, however; internally it can also trigger the release of hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol, and catecholamines -- All of which can counteract the release of sex-related hormones that are queued by the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) which helps you to conceive. In severe cases, it can inhibit the routine cycle of ovulation while simultaneously reducing the sperm count in men. Because both men and women are susceptible to increased stress levels, it's important to talk to your doctor openly and honestly about how you're both feeling in order to rule stress out as one of the causes for temporary infertility. Chronic stress can be a chain reaction of hormone imbalances that prevent conception and while managed relatively easily, may be a significant cause of infertility that many people go unaware of.
12 Lymphangiocele: Male Condition That Can Be Fixed
This is an extremely rare condition that occurs in adult males, but not often. However, it is one that severely affects fertility. Basically, a lymphangiocele is a malformation of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system controls the vessels in the body that are responsible for excess fluids from tissue to the venous system.
Having a lymphangiocele on a male is disastrous for couples wanting to conceive. In most cases, it has been reversed with surgery but has the potential to keep couples from having a baby without surgery.
This condition is so rare that there's not much research or medical information about it, other than it can limit fertility in males. The reason this is on our list is that it's something that happens so infrequently and doctors will often go through a variety of other tests, including testing a man's partner, before considering a lymphangiocele. The condition may also often be comparable to a varicocele, so a differentiation is needed before surgery is considered. Simply to a varicocele, lymphangiocele will cause complete spermatogenesis. In one extremely rare case of a 29-year-old male with lymphangiocele, the malformation was intertwined with his spermatic cord as well as his testis but was removed with surgery. After weeks of recovery, the couple was reported to be pregnant. Now talk about success in the face of rare disease!
11 Varicocele: The Biggest Problem For Men
According to the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago, about 25% of all infertility cases are caused by a sperm defect.
It's been reported that roughly 40% of all male infertility is due to varicocele. Simply put, it's an enlargement of some of the man's veins, and it can cause infertility in men due to low sperm count or inactive sperm.
A varicocele is similar to a varicose vein and causes problems in the regeneration of viable sperm in males. The cause of this condition is not yet clear, however, it may not always cause infertility. In severe cases, it will, but for the most part, many people with a varicocele will go on to lead normal lives and suffer no symptoms whatsoever. In more severe cases, it can cause various levels of pain and interfere with sperm production. It's rarely treated as it's not seen as something to be worried about, which is why it may not be diagnosed as the cause of infertility right away. It's easily diagnosed but not often looked at as the cause of infertility which is why it's such a rare cause resulting in a lack of pregnancy. If a varicocele is problematic, the reason for infertility is traced back to the effect the varicocele has on the sperm inside of the testis -- It can keep the temperature much too high for sperm to function, which results in slower movements and the production of viable sperm.
10 Hyperprolactinemia: Prolactin Without Breastfeeding
For breastfeeding moms, this is one cause of infertility that explains why your chance of becoming pregnant against while producing milk is so low. A hormone known as prolactin causes Hyperprolactinemia when its levels are elevated; this is something that naturally happens when a woman has just given birth to a child and will continue until breastfeeding has ceased. Therefore, it's completely normal. The problem occurs in women who are not breastfeeding and have not yet had children.
High prolactin in moms who are trying to have a baby can severely interfere with the process because the hormone limits ovulation, which means that an egg never actually makes it down to become a baby.
While high prolactin has a myriad of symptoms that accompany it, these symptoms are common with multiple causes of infertility as well making it initially difficult to pinpoint without routine bloodwork. Symptoms include abnormal periods, lowered sex drive, amenorrhea (an absent period), weight gain, and severe hormonal imbalances, among others. It's a long list that accompanies this cause of infertility and because of its symptoms, may not be considered first right off the bat. The good news is that there are both holistic as well as medical ways to control prolactin levels, and while medications only control levels temporarily, it's usually effective enough to help couples conceive.
9 Pelvic Adhesive Disease: Healing Too Well
The issue of pelvic adhesions is interesting because it's a problem that can lie dormant for some time before eventually becoming diagnosed. The diagnosis is simple enough with the use of x-rays, but it's referred to as "remaining silent" by the Modern Medicine Network because it may not cause any symptoms for quite some time. Pelvic adhesive disease occurs when the normal process of healing turns against the body and does its job to heal, but also makes connections in the tissue that should not be there; specifically in the pelvic region.
The condition usually happens post-surgery, for example having a cyst removed. Since the ovarian area is so sensitive, during the healing process and ovary recovering from a surgical procedure may unintentionally become secured to the ovarian wall.
It becomes an issue of extra scar tissue blocking certain paths that are required to be clear in order for fertilization to occur, and unfortunately, these paths may become blocked from extra tissue growth. Because this happens slowly and over some time, symptoms may not arise immediately, allowing the extra tissue to grow all while going unnoticed. Many women don't realize what is happening until they begin to experience extra tenderness or pain in their pelvic region. Additionally, pelvic adhesions can occur due to inflammation or trauma in the area where tissues and organs essentially become "stuck" together; this can happen anywhere in the abdominal cavity. While adhesions do not go away on their own, they're treated by having the patient undergo surgery. The only other option is to live with the adhesion, which can be painful but is managed with pain medication.
8 Endometriosis: Attachment To The Abdomen
Hear us out on this one, we all know that Endometriosis is, as of late, a well-known medical condition. What many don't know, however, is that it can also be the cause of infertility.
Simply put, endometriosis is the spreading of endometrium tissues to other parts of the body like the ovaries or abdominal cavity. Obviously, this can cause scarring and severe pain, which is how it's usually diagnosed in the first place.
Many of these cases will be ruled out as mild. In fact, for the most part, many people with endometriosis have mild or moderate cases but still go on to be perfectly fertile with little to no issues other than pain. The problem arises in severe endometriosis, where tissue blockage has spread to the point where ovary function is limited and egg production is slowed or halted altogether. When this happens, cysts often appear on the ovaries that are filled with endometriosis and are called endometriomas, which are painful as well as problematic for pregnancy. The endometriosis tissue can expand into the fallopian tubes as well and prevent sperm from reaching the eggs. Ultimately, this may result in damage to the reproductive organs. Unfortunately, medical treatment has shown that even if treated, in cases of severe endometriosis, pregnancy rates still do not improve afterward. For women who are under 40, in vitro fertilization is an option.
7 Thyroid Disease: Immune System Trouble
There's an interesting statistic according to The Thyroid Foundation of Canada that states women who were at risk for hyperthyroidism before pregnancy, can often get the disease after giving birth. The reasoning for this is a suppressed immune system; during pregnancy, your immune system is suppressed while the baby develops and this reduces the risk for thyroid disease, which works directly with your immune system. While post-hypothyroidism from pregnancy can improve on its own, some women remain stuck with the disease. However, for women trying to conceive, pre-existing hyp- or hyperthyroidism can be the reason for why they find themselves infertile.
The thyroid is responsible for many different functions in the body, and as such, when working too slowly or too quickly, can affect them all. Pregnancy is one of these things, and while it can be treated with additional iodine or via surgery in extreme cases, it can still prevent women from becoming pregnant.
Hypothyroidism has been known to cause miscarriages in women who have already conceived due to the low levels that it causes from being underactive. While it is possible to become pregnant with thyroid disease, it made our list because of the rare cases where pregnancy is prevented because of it.
6 Klinefelter Syndrome: Male Extra X Chromosome
The rate of men diagnosed with Klinefelter Syndrome is relatively low at every 1 in 500. That being said, according to the Oncofertility Consortium, only about 10% are diagnosed before the age of 14. It's true the Klinefelter's is the leading cause of male infertility, however, it's the symptoms it causes that make it sneaky. It's a disease that's underdiagnosed because many of the symptoms accompanying it are mild and don't present themselves as severe enough to present to a doctor, which is the reason it made its way to our list.
The unique disease causes males to carry an extra chromosome, so the syndrome is seen in males whose genetic makeup includes an extra X chromosome leading to a karyotype that presents itself as XXY. This can reduce testosterone levels in males and ultimately make them unable to have a baby since it can prevent their parts from functioning normally.
In order to pinpoint where the syndrome comes from, you have to look at the process of conceiving. When two chromosomes are conjoined, at random, a process called nondisjunction can occur. This is how extra chromosomes appear and has been traced back to higher maternal ages during reproduction. Klinefelter's also has another form called mosaic Klinefelter Syndrome, which occurs when a cell is divided during development. Men who have the mosaic form of Klinefelter's are less likely to show any severe symptoms, which even further prevents this syndrome from being discovered as the cause of infertility.
5 High Cholesterol: Heart Disease And Hormones
High cholesterol is another issue that many people are quite aware that they have, but don't realize can occasionally affect their chance of becoming pregnant.
Studies from the National Institute of Health have shown that there is a direct link between couples with high cholesterol and conceiving because of the tendency of contracting heart disease. With increased cholesterol, functions that it would normally take care of become decreased, such as various hormones and vitamin D.
Increased cholesterol can deteriorate your health overall, making it difficult for your body to conceive. These odds are made even worse if both you and your partner suffer from high cholesterol, and doctors recommend that both men and women ensure that their health is good before attempting to get pregnant. In the studies done by the National Institute of Health, couples who did not suffer from high cholesterol had far better odds of conceiving and did go on to have a healthy pregnancy as opposed to those who did have high blood pressure. In the case of the former, it took much longer to conceive and these couples clearly faced a much bigger challenge. Having high cholesterol is common knowledge as far as heart-related issues, but it's one of those things that many don't consider an interference when it comes to pregnancy.
4 Breastfeeding: Prolactin Stops Ovulation
Ah, prolactin strikes again! Couples who try and have babies close together often find themselves unsuccessful (this isn't to say that no couple has ever gotten pregnant immediately after giving birth) not because of breastfeeding, but because of a hormone that's produced at the time of breastfeeding. Prolactin is responsible for milk production in women post-birth and elevated levels of it in a woman's system can suppress the chance of becoming pregnant right away.
The hormone reduces the chance for ovulation which can be a blessing for women who don't want to become pregnant immediately but can cause issues for those who want to be pregnant again shortly after their first child.
There are medications that can reduce the prolactin in a woman's body post-pregnancy, however, there are side effects that go with each. It's also a concern if you are breastfeeding, because not only are the hormones making their way into your body, but you're also providing nutrients to a newborn baby. Since prolactin is lowered by dopamine and elevated by estrogen, there are some natural remedies that are worth looking into, especially if you are breastfeeding and looking to conceive right away. Otherwise, prolactin levels will, in all likelihood, lower on their own according to your natural hormone cycle.
3 Folic Acid Deficiency: Makes Baby Boys Unable To Produce
An article by Very Well Family in January of this year pointed out low folic acid as a potential cause in affecting fertility.
Since a male needs folate in order to create and develop new cells, folic acid plays a crucial role in swimmer health. Studies have shown that men who have swimmers with a poor DNA structure often can be traced back to deficient amounts of folate in their system.
Studies have also shown that by simply taking a folic acid supplement, previously infertile men were able to increase their sperm count by 74%. That's a stunning number compared to what they'd seen prior and the interesting thing is that even if low folic acid levels weren't ruled to be the cause of sub-fertile men, it still increased their sperm rate. Therefore, even if folic acid isn't the cause of infertility, there's a chance that it may improve sperm health overall in men who have difficulty with poor sperm DNA. In addition to folic acid playing a potentially vital role in sperm health, it also plays a huge role in pregnancy health, as well. Women who are already pregnant benefit from folic acid because it reduces the chance of birth defects in children as well as the chance of a premature birth.
2 Phthalate Exposure: Found In Products Everywhere
Phthalates are difficult to pin down as far as what you can find them in and where. They're used commonly in industrial products and are considered environmental contaminants which makes avoiding exposure to them somewhat difficult. Studies have shown that most people will be exposed to them at some point or another, but it's often unclear specifically from what or how since they're found in so many things. They're also found in certain diet and medical treatments, which makes them even more prevalent in some people's lives. There is a correlation between male toxicity and phthalates which can reduce the health of sperm and its production. Since exposure can begin intrauterine, underdeveloped babies are at risk for phthalate exposure as well.
Reports have shown that over the last half of the century, swimmer quality has shown a decline due to exposure to what is presumed to be phthalates in the environment.
While this is a rare cause and not one that's immediately explored, it's helpful to remain aware of the products in and around your house as well as your diet and medications. Some products, especially children's toys, will make mention of the use or lack thereof of phthalates in their materials.
1 High Male DNA Damage
This is a wide-range scope in regards to infertility, and we'll explain why it made our list soon. A study done by Queen's University in Belfast discovered that for 80% of couples faced with infertility, high sperm DNA damage was the culprit. These couples were previously given "undiagnosed" reasons for their infertility and have since found the answer under a microscope.
High damage to the DNA rates in swimmers can be caused by a plethora of things, which is why it's something that still remains somewhat of a mystery.
While there is closure found in knowing why sperm is causing infertility, the reasoning for why there's still DNA damage often remains unclear. A one-of-its-kind test called the SpermComet is the test to thank for Queen's Unversity and their findings, and because of this, couples now have a way to quickly find out what their sperm health percentage rate is and which fertility treatments are right for them. According to the study, 15% or less in damage to a sperm's DNA is relatively normal, while damage resulting in 25% can be devastating to a couple's fertility rate. While there are many things that can damage the DNA of sperm, this test is one step closer to helping couples who previously had no answer to their infertility questions.
References: natural-fertility-info.com, naturalfertilitybreakthrough.com, sciencedaily.com, sciencedirect.com, verywellfamily.com, nih.gov, oncofertility.northwestern.edu, thyroid.ca, mayoclinic.org, advancedfertility.com, jhrsonline.org, drsherazi110.blogspot.com, advancedfertility.com, obgyn.net, mayoclinic.org, dollyhamshealth.com, womenshealth.gov