For couples who have had no trouble conceiving and have experienced a successful pregnancy, secondary infertility can come as somewhat of a shock. Having conceived one or more times before you may anticipate the next time will follow suit. When conception fails to occur naturally, you grow concerned. Many women feel a sense of confusion and isolation as the months roll by. When they receive a diagnosis of secondary infertility, it usually comes with a cavalcade of other emotions, from hopelessness and frustration to anger and even guilt.
A diagnosis of primary infertility is usually made after a year (six months for women over 35) of natural, unprotected intercourse in which pregnancy doesn’t occur. Couples who are diagnosed with secondary infertility typically follow the same time frame. Approximately 12 percent of couples in the United States are diagnosed with secondary infertility.
Causes of Secondary Infertility
There’s often an underlying cause with infertility, and your physician will do everything they can to determine and correct, any physical complications that are interfering with your ability to conceive. Secondary infertility shares some of the same reasons for an inability to conceive with primary infertility, however there are some circumstances specific to a diagnosis of secondary infertility. Common causes of secondary infertility are:
A woman’s fertility declines with age. This diminished ability to conceive begins around age 37. By age 40 there is less than a 35-percent chance of natural conception. As you age the number of eggs you produce and their quality decline. If you are of advanced maternal age when you begin trying to grow your family, your age is a possible factor.
Endometriosis occurs when cells replicating endometrial tissue (that which makes up the uterine lining) travel to other areas in your abdominal region. This tissue can invade your fallopian tubes, wrap around your ovaries and cause scarring. Endometriosis is a progressive disease, so while it may have not interfered with prior pregnancy, this chronic condition may have progressed to the point that it is interfering now.
Scar Tissue from Prior Surgical Procedures
Just as endometriosis can create scar tissue which blocks your reproductive organs, so can previous gynecological or abdominal procedures, such as a cesarean delivery. Scar tissue of this nature can prevent fertilization or implantation in the uterus. There has been success in clearing scar tissue by using laparoscopic surgeries, however IVF is often recommended.
Hormonal imbalances interfere with the menstrual cycle, which in turn prevents you from ovulating. There are a few conditions which can develop at any time and cause a disruption in your hormonal balance. Thyroid disease, pituitary gland issues, polycystic ovary syndrome, and autoimmune conditions can throw your hormones off balance.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
STIs can occur at any age and cause infertility due to inflammation and the creation of scar tissue. An infection of this nature places you at great risk for pelvic inflammatory disease, which, untreated, can lead to severe scarring of the fallopian tubes, preventing natural conception.
If you are over or underweight your fertility may suffer. Weight has a direct impact on your body’s ability to produce the right balance of hormones. Falling into the under or overweight category on the BMI can throw your reproductive hormones out of whack.
Male Factor Infertility
Obviously sperm quality, amount of viable sperm, and sperm’s motility have a significant role in becoming pregnant. If you suspect secondary infertility, it’s wise to ask your partner to be tested as well.
Unexplained Secondary Infertility
Sometimes the cause of your inability to conceive is unknown, just as with primary infertility. When this happens there are steps you can take to grow your family thanks to advanced reproductive technology. IVF is one of the most successful fertility treatments available too couples dealing with secondary infertility.
Dealing With Secondary Infertility
If you have had one or more pregnancies and no previous fertility issues, but are unable to conceive naturally after 12 months of trying (6 months for women over 35), you need to see your physician. You, and your partner should be evaluated by your doctor. Depending on the results there may be a minimally invasive procedure, or some lifestyle changes, that can help. IVF is a viable option, and popular for those with secondary infertility.
Just as with primary infertility, secondary infertility can be extremely stressful. Make sure you speak with your physician if you are having trouble coping with your diagnosis. There’s no need to feel isolated and alone.