Causes - Lifestyle Factors - Symptoms

A number of choices you make every day impact your health, potentially affecting your fertility. In this section, we review some of the common ways that lifestyle choices affect your health and your fertility.

Smoking
Smoking and infertility go hand in hand. If you smoke for many years, or smoke many cigarettes per day, your risk for fertility problems is increased. When you smoke, more than 7000 chemicals spread throughout your entire body and all of your organs. This can lead to an increased risk for cancer and fertility problems, including:

  • Ovulation problems
  • Damage to your reproductive organs
  • Increased risk for miscarriage and other problems during pregnancy and at birth

Men that smoke cigarettes also face an increased risk for male fertility problems, such as:

  • Lower sperm count and sperm motility problems
  • Hormonal issues
  • Erectile dysfunction

If you are trying to get pregnant without success and your partner smokes, encourage him to quit. The sooner you both quit, the sooner you may be able to conceive.

Weight
Being underweight or overweight can affect your health and your fertility. Weight problems can:

  1. Increase your chances of having irregular or absent periods

  2. Raise your risk of miscarriage 

  3. Cause your body to produce too much estrogen, which can make it harder to get pregnant

  4. Be linked with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a major contributor to infertility in women
  5. Increase the chances of having complications during infertility treatments

If you are underweight and your body fat is 10 to 15 percent below normal, you may have problems getting pregnant. Underweight women are unable to produce the necessary hormones to trigger ovulation, which is essential for conception. Being underweight, or having very low percent of body fat, can cause issues with hormone levels or irregular or absent periods (anovulation). These problems may make it harder to conceive

Don’t delay; whether you are underweight or overweight, make it your goal to get to a healthy weight.

Environmental factors
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that appear in the soil, the food supply, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. These chemicals can be harmful, as they may be able to alter your hormone levels, causing fertility problems. Studies are continuing to show a relationship between endocrine disruptors and fertility problems, including the following:

  • Endometriosis
  • Male fertility problems
  • Infertility and miscarriages

To learn how to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals when trying to conceive, check out our Resources page.

STDs
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) cause up to 50 percent of preventable female infertility cases in the U.S. STDs most commonly affecting fertility are chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and human papillomavirus (HPV).

STDs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a preventable condition that can lead to infertility. Symptoms of PID include:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Discharge with odor
  • Painful urination

PID can cause scar tissue that can damage or block organs, and often goes undetected due to its asymptomatic nature. Talk to your doctor about PID if you think you are at risk.

STDs and male fertility
In men, STDs can lower sperm count and mobility, causing inflammation and infertility. Chlamydia can also spread from the urethra to the testicles and cause permanent disability and sterility in men if left untreated.

Sometimes sexually transmitted infections go unnoticed because there may be no symptoms. Yet these infections, especially when untreated, can lead to irreversible scarring that impairs the ability to get pregnant and have children. Oftentimes, there are no apparent signs or symptoms of an STD and the infection can even go undetected for years.