Illness

A number of illnesses experienced by women are known to affect fertility. For example certain types of infections (discussed in more detail below) as well as autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), diabetes mellitus and iron-deficiency anemia may lead to infertility.

Abdominal Disease

Diseases of the abdominal cavity, such as inflammatory bowel disease and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can impair fertility. PID, caused by an infection, can lead to scarring and blockage of the fallopian tubes. Abdominal surgeries can further cause scarring and the formation of adhesions.

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Cancer

Cancer is a medical condition that affects many aspects of a woman’s life. Unfortunately, cancer can also impact fertility in one of two ways: directly, or through side effects brought about by cancer treatments.

When cancer occurs in the ovaries, cervix, or endometrium (lining of the uterus), this may result in the surgical removal of vital parts of the reproductive system. Although the surgery may ultimately save a person’s life, for those hoping to still have children, the prospect of no longer being able to conceive or carry a pregnancy can be devastating.

Additionally, the very treatments that can ultimately treat cancer can also affect female fertility. Chemotherapy and radiation can damage or destroy the cells in the ovaries, and damage the uterine lining and the fallopian tubes.

On a positive note, this infertility can be temporary, especially in the case of younger patients. Healthcare providers and the medical community as a whole are recognizing more often the concerns cancer patients often have about preserving fertility. Fertilized embryos can be frozen and stored for future use. (NOTE: Although embryo freezing is successful, unfortunately similar techniques are not that successful yet for eggs or ovarian tissue. Research is underway to improve the ability to freeze the unfertilized oocyte or ovarian tissue prior to cancer treatment that may allow cancer patients to preserve their fertility. In future, cancer patients may be able to plan ahead prior to treatments).

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Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

PID refers to any infection of the pelvic organs. If left untreated, PIDs can lead to infertility. PIDs can be caused by the presence of external bacteria.

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Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

Not all the sexually transmitted infections (STIs) cause discomfort or exhibit any symptoms. In these cases, women often feel no pain to let them know they might have an STI. Symptoms of STIs can include pain during intercourse, fever, and abnormal discharge.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the two most commonly reported STIs in Canada. STIs can do permanent damage if not treated, and can eventually lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Other STIs can also affect fertility. PID can result in pelvic or abdominal pain, and if left untreated can lead to scarring that can impact a woman’s fertility. Fortunately, many STIs, such as chlamydia, are treatable with antibiotics.

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Stress

Stress is interpreted and experienced differently in each woman. By definition, stress is any event that a woman perceives as threatening or harmful. Although there is minimal evidence directly linking stress to infertility, extremely high levels of stress in women can cause hormone levels to change, which can affect ovulation.

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