Why is infertility soaring among women under 30?
Infertility is defined as trying to get pregnant (with frequent intercourse) for at least one year with no success. Approximately 10 to 18 per cent of young couples struggle with fertility issues these days. “When I got married five years ago, I was 26. We used contraception initially, because I didn’t want to get pregnant soon after marriage. But we stopped using protection in a year and were fine with starting a family. I had PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), but I never thought it would cause so much trouble. Despite calculated attempts and medical advice, there were no positive results. Finally, we had to opt for IVF,” says Richa Sharma, a city-based banker.
As the rate of infertility among women under 30 soars, health experts share the causes and ways to control the condition:
Faulty ovulation process
The ovaries must provide and release an egg every month. It doesn’t happen properly, especially in women who suffer from PCOS. The number of women suffering from PCOS is on the rise. It is associated with hormonal imbalance that affects ovulation, insulin resistance and obesity. “A lot of women have low AMH (Anti-Müllerian Hormone) these days. So, even if you’re under 30, your ovaries are aging faster than your chronological age. I’ve been in practice for the last 25 years, but I’ve seen this more in the past decade. It could be stress induced or caused by pollution. Thyroid disorders also farm your fertility,” Dr Nandita Palshekar, obstetrician-gynaecologist.
Two hormones produced by the pituitary gland are responsible for stimulating ovulation every month — FSH and LH. “Excess physical stress and high or low body weight can disrupt production of these hormones and affect ovulation. Hyperprolactinaemia, which means excessive production of prolactin hormone by the pituitary gland, reduces estrogen production and causes infertility,” says Dr Gandhali Deorukhkar Pillai, gynaecologist.
Premature ovarian failure
This disorder is usually caused by an autoimmune response or by premature loss of eggs from ovaries. The ovary no longer produces eggs and it lowers estrogen production in women under the age of 30. It could also be genetic or a result of chemotherapy.
Blocked fallopian tubes
They prevent the egg from reaching the uterus. Pelvic inflammatory disease due to sexually transmitted infections can cause this. Also, pelvic tuberculosis is a major cause of tubal infection worldwide. Any previous surgeries in the abdomen and pelvic area can cause adhesions between the tubes and ovaries leading to infertility. Presence of polyps or fibroids in the uterus can also cause infertility and implantation issues.
Endometriosis and cervix issues
This is a condition in which the tissue that normally occurs in the uterus implants and grows in other locations. This leads to cysts and affects fertility in a big way. “Uterine abnormalities present from birth can cause problems getting pregnant. Cervical Stenosis or narrowing of the cervix can hamper sperm movement. Sometimes, the cervix can’t produce the best type of mucus to allow the sperm to travel through the cervix in to the uterus,” says Dr Gandhali.
Career goals often don’t give a couple enough time to have regular intercourse. “Lack of time is a major problem that working couples face these days. Night duties change your biological cycle,” says Dr Nandita Palshetkar. Also, long working hours make your lifestyle sedentary and no physical activity is harms fertility immensely.
Smoking and alcohol
Tobacco is the enemy of fertility. If you smoke, you might take longer to get pregnant than a non-smoker. Most women who have regular, unprotected sex usually conceive within a year. But for smokers, the chances of getting pregnant are cut by almost half. Smoking affects the DNA (genetic material) in eggs, the fertilised egg’s ability to reach the uterus and the environment inside the uterus, where the baby grows.
Women who smoke are twice as likely to be infertile as non-smokers. If you quit smoking, the lining of your womb improves. Even passive smoking is harmful for your fertility. Smoking also affects the success rates of fertility treatments, such as IVF. Besides cigarettes, drugs like cocaine and marijuana, among others, are also enemies of fertility. Though it isn’t understood clearly how alcohol makes women less fertile, there is a link between drinking and fertility. Consuming alcohol depletes the quality of the eggs and increases the risk of miscarriage. Research suggests that even drinking lightly can have a negative effect. So it’s important to limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of ovulation disorders.
What can be done to fix it?
Food is the key
It’s important to eat a healthy and balanced diet. “Either consume food that’s rich in antioxidants or take supplements after consulting with a health expert,” says Dr Veena Aurangabadwala, gynaecologist. The most common sources of antioxidants are strawberries, blueberries, kale, dark chocolate, red cabbage and beans.
Right body weight
It’s important to control your body weight to remain in normal BMI range (18.9 to 25). “Your fertility potential cannot improve, but you can take certain precautions to ensure that it doesn’t deteriorate further. It’s important to stay fit. As the BMI increases, there is a change in the hormonal balance and this may cause issues with ovulation and irregular periods,” says Dr Rohan Palshetkar, gynaecologist. Indulging in some kind of physical activity is a must. Exercising to stay fit and to have the right weight can also help you control PCOS.
Say no to smoking
Smoking cigarettes or consuming drugs will only make things worse for you, as they reduce the number and quality of eggs in women, reducing their fertility potential.
Diabetes and thyroid in check
If you have diabetes or thyroid, you might have a tough time conceiving. “Have regular check-ups of thyroid function and blood sugar levels and keep them in control with medication and exercise. It’s also important to check your vitamin D levels. Its deficiency also causes fertility-related issues,” says Dr Veena.