Female Reproductive System Problems and Treatments
Pregnancy and birthing come easily for many women, while others struggle to conceive. Acquired and inborn health conditions can affect your reproductive organs and are common causes of infertility. Fertility problems related to your ovaries, fallopian tubes, or uterus can be troubling, but help is often available. If you have health issues with your reproductive system, ask your doctor about infertility treatments that might help you conceive.
Reproductive system basics
Your reproductive organs work as a team to nourish and protect a tiny embryo or growing fetus. A healthy reproductive system carries a pregnancy to term, leading to the birth of a healthy baby. Here is a refresher on how it all begins:
- Your ovaries foster the growth and maturity of eggs for release during ovulation.
- During ovulation, a mature egg travels from your ovary into your fallopian tube where it may join with sperm for fertilization.
- The fertilized egg (now called an embryo) travels to your uterus where it can implant and grow, getting ready for birth.
When one of these steps is impaired, fertility problems may occur.
When you are born, your ovaries contain hundreds of thousands of immature eggs. Your ovaries house these eggs in tiny follicles. When these eggs are released, you have a chance of becoming pregnant. Ovulation disorders, ovarian cysts and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can affect this process and prevent pregnancy.
Fertility drugs, surgeries, and other fertility treatments may help. But what if these treatments fail? Women with abnormal ovulation may be able to get pregnant one day with help from an artificial ovary. This artificial ovary will house tiny eggs, taking them from the early follicular stage to maturity, helping women conceive.
About 1 in 4 cases of infertility include problems with tubal factors. Tubal reconstructive surgery can help many women conceive, despite tubal issues. Tubal surgery can reduce scar tissue build-up in the fallopian tubes, restoring tubal health and fertility. This surgery can help many women with endometriosis, a condition that causes fertility problems for 1 in 3 infertile women.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is another option for women with tubal problems. During IVF, your fertility doctor extracts healthy eggs from your ovaries, fertilizes them in a lab setting, and then transfers a healthy embryo directly into your uterus. This fertility treatment can help you get pregnant by bypassing your fallopian tubes altogether.
Providing a home for a growing embryo and fetus, the uterus also plays a starring role in reproduction. When fertility problems affect the uterus, surgery can help to restore your fertility. Uterine surgery can correct blockages and abnormal tissue growth, removing scar tissue and fibroids. Surgery can also help repair an abnormally shaped uterus. Some women are born with, or develop, an irregularly shaped uterus, including the following:
- Septate uterus
- Tipped uterus (also known as a tilted, backward, or retroverted uterus)
- Unicornate uterus (associated with a single fallopian tube)
A septate uterus is the most common of the inborn uterine malformations. A septate uterus contains a uterine septum. This septum acts like a wall that separates the uterus in two (similar to a nasal septum). This wall can impede pregnancy and cause recurrent miscarriages. A surgery called hysteroscopy may help, reducing miscarriage rates and leading to a healthy pregnancy.
See a fertility specialist
Infertility is defined as the inability to get pregnant within 12 months of having unprotected sexual intercourse. If you are over 35, doctors encourage you to seek help after 6 months of trying to get pregnant without success. It can be scary to find out that you have fertility problems. When fertility problems occur, visit a fertility specialist. Treatments, including medication and surgery, may help you conceive.