The usual criteria for diagnosing infertility is when a couple has been unable to become pregnant after a year of unprotected sex. A couple can enjoy overall health, engage in sexual activity on a regular basis, and be free of other risk factors – and yet suffer from infertility.
There are some early warning signs, however, that can help you determine if you might have a fertility problem, without having to try for a year before discovering it.
For women the first of these signs are irregular menstrual cycles. Irregular menstrual cycles, or cycles that are very long or short can indicate ovulation issues.
Another problem associated with your menstrual cycle is flow and cramping. While bleeding is considered normal if it lasts between 3 to 7 days, there may be a problem if the flow is very heavy or very light.
Here irregularity is also a concern – if the amount or coloring of flow, or length of bleeding time varies from month to month, or if you suffer from debilitating menstrual cramps – you need to visit your doctor. These are also possible indications of a fertility issue.
You may also be already considered as infertile if you have experienced three successive miscarriages. While a single miscarriage is quite common – occurring in as many as 10% to 20% of pregnancies – three in a row indicate a more serious problem.
If you are older than 35, you are already at a higher risk for infertility. At age 30, a woman has a 20% chance of conceiving on any given menstrual cycle. But by age 40, she only has a 5% chance. If after six months of trying, you have not become pregnant, you should see a doctor.
Weight can also affect your fertility. If you are outside the BMI range for your age and height (either under or overweight), this can negatively impact your chances of becoming pregnant, as can poor diet and excessive exercise.
For men, infertility issues are not so obvious. Since male factor infertility is usually about sperm, which are microscopic, you can not "see" low sperm counts, mobility, or abnormally-shaped sperm. However, if your partner experiences any type of sexual dysfunction, it could be symptomatic of a fertility issue.
If you and / or your partner have a chronic illness, this can also affect your ability to become pregnant. Thyroid disorders and diabetes in and of themselves can affect your fertility.
In addition, insulin, thyroid hormones, antidepressants, hypertension medications, and Tagamet (for peptic ulcers) can all affect fertility. Whether you or your partner suffer from a chronic illness, or are on a medication with fertility side effects, you should talk with your doctor about alternatives.
In addition, treatments for cancer (for either partner) can affect fertility, as can previous STDs. You should definitely seek guidance from your doctor in these cases.
Also, if either partner smokes or drinks alcohol, this can have a negative impact on fertility, affecting conception odds in women and impacting sperm in men.
It is important that evaluate your potential fertility risks before you hold yourself to the year-of-unprotected-sex standard, as you may be able to become pregnant more easily and quickly by dealing with these issues right away.