Whether you are trying to get pregnant or not, it's important to pick up on any signs that might indicate you have fertility problems.
The sooner you spot possible symptoms the better, even if it turns out there's nothing to worry about. Infertility affects around one in seven couples – approximately 3.5 million people in the UK, so it's more common than you may think.
We have compiled a list of 10 of the most common signs that may indicate you have a fertility problem. Remember, if any of these sound familiar, don't panic – it doesn't mean you have a fertility issue – it's just an indication that you should consider making an appointment with your GP to discuss your concerns and try to get a more definitive answer.
- Irregular cycles
Having irregular periods can be normal – particularly in your teenage years – but once you’ve passed this age, your cycles should be regular.
If your cycles are unusually short or long, or they come unexpectedly, then you should speak to your doctor. If you don't get periods at all, you must see your doctor as soon as possible.
A number of factors can cause irregular periods. The most common is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). You can read more about PCOS here.
- Heavy periods
If you've noticed that your periods have been a lot heavier recently, this could indicate a wider health issue that might cause infertility. Heavy bleeding (or menorrhagia) can have many different causes – IUDs, medication or complication with pregnancies – but the most common cause is hormone imbalance.
- Painful periods
Pain during periods isn't always a sign of infertility – in fact, most women will have experienced period cramps at some stage – so don't panic. But if you suffer from severe period pain, or pain during sex, abnormal bleeding, rectal pain or have noticed blood in your urine, then it could be a sign of endometriosis. Read more about endometriosis here.
- Severe adult acne
If your skin type has changed significantly recently – i.e. the onset of adult acne – that it could be a sign that your hormones are all over the place. Specifically, it could signal you're suffering from PCOS.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome occurs in women who have an excess of androgens (male hormones). PCOS can cause irregular ovulation and will also wreak havoc with your fertility. So if you've been suffering from acne and are struggling to control it, you should book an appointment with your doctor to get to the bottom of it.
- Are you older than 35?
Both female and male fertility declines with age. Women who are 35 and above have a relatively small chance of conceiving compared to a woman in her twenties. At 40, a woman only has a 5% chance of conceiving in any one month.
Although male fertility also declines with age, it’s not as drastic. Increased male age has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage, the passing on of genetic problems and come congenital disabilities.
- Are you underweight or overweight?
Your weight is directly linked to your fertility. Being overweight or underweight can have an impact on your ability to conceive. You can work out if you're overweight or underweight by calculating your BMI. If you are obese, research has shown that losing 5 to 10% of your weight can jump-start ovulation. Equally, if you're very underweight, this can cause a huge change in your hormones, stop your periods altogether and make you infertile.
If you're having trouble managing your weight, up or down, it's highly important that you speak to your doctor about how to better control it.
- Do you or your partner have a history of STIs?
If you or your partner has ever had a sexually transmitted infection, this could be the reason you're not able to get pregnant.
Infection and inflammation from chlamydia or gonorrhoea can cause a blockage of the fallopian tubes and this can make pregnancy either impossible or put you at risk of an ectopic pregnancy.
And for men, an untreated infection can lead to scar tissue within the male reproductive tract, making semen transfer ineffective or near impossible.
It's crucial that you are regularly checked for STIs, even if you have no symptoms. If you do have any symptoms of an STI, see your doctor right away.
- Smoking or drinking
If you or your partner smokes or drinks (or both) on a regular basis, this could cause fertility problems. Smoking affects sperm count and sperm movement. In women, smoking can speed up the process of ovarian ageing, bringing on an earlier menopause.
Heavy drinking can also lead to fertility problems. Excessive drinking has been linked to low sperm count, poor sperm movements and irregular sperm shape. It's believed that between one and five drinks a week can reduce a women's chances of conceiving, and 10 drinks or more decreases the likelihood of conception even further, although the reason why is not fully understood.
- Decreased sex drive
A dramatic drop in your sex drive may indicate a lot of things – it could mean you're feeling stressed out or depressed. Even certain medications might influence your sex drive. However, it's worth mentioning that endometriosis can make a woman's sex drive decrease and make sex extremely painful. Only your doctor will be able to inform you of the cause of your decreased sex drive, so if you are concerned, be sure to book an appointment.
- You’re gaining weight for no apparent reason
You haven't changed your diet, your routine or your lifestyle, but you're gaining weight – this might be another indication of PCOS. Women with PCOS have a higher resistance to insulin so women who suffer from this hormonal disorder might find that they're gaining weight for no clear reason.
If this sounds like you, make sure you get it checked out sooner rather than later.
None of these signs means you definitely have fertility issues, but they do suggest that you might be suffering from some underlying health concern, so it's always best to make an appointment with your GP if any of them sound familiar.
Want to know more? download our book to learn about some of the Common Signs of Infertility.