How Age Affects Fertility
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The age of fertility
Fertility begins to decline in women from the age of 30, when the number of eggs she has starts to decrease. From 35, the chances of getting pregnant are less while the possibility of infertility is greater. At age 40, only 2 in every 5 women who wish to have a baby will be able to do so.
If the woman is over 35 when trying for a baby there is a strong chance the pregnancy may produce multiples. As the woman gets older, her body produces more of the hormone which enables her to ovulate (FSH). This is because there are fewer viable eggs left, and more of the hormone FSH causes more than one egg to be released, resulting in more than one egg fertilised and more than one baby. It's important to remember that a multiple pregnancy is a big strain on time, money and emotions, not to mention the strain on the body during pregnancy.
The time it takes to conceive
The age range at which fertility peaks in women is 20-24. Age does have a large bearing on fertility, and it can take much longer to get pregnant when the woman is in her late 30's or early 40's. Occasionally conception may not take place at all. Couples having regular sex (this is classed as a couple having sex every two or three days) with no contraception have the best chance of conceiving. 85% of couples will conceive within a year unless their age or fertility hinders this. Half of those who don't conceive will do so the following year and another 1% the year after that. However, by age 38, only 77% of women will conceive within three years.
Causes of fertility problems
The older the female, the poorer the quality of her eggs. This affects a woman's fertility. Every female is born with all her ovarian reserve or number of eggs within her ovaries, therefore the sooner in life these eggs are used, the better quality they are. 1% of women reach the menopause before they are 40 and therefore stop ovulating. Also, as menopause is approaching it can cause irregularity of periods, causing ovulation to become irregular too.
Fallopian tube blockages are also a major factor in infertility, and this can be caused by an infection or another problem. Any infection left untreated becomes worse with time and so age means longer exposure to any infection.
An example of an infection is Chlamydia. When left untreated Chlamydia can develop into pelvic inflammatory disease leading to the fallopian tubes being blocked. This can lead to infertility or an increase in the likelihood of an ectopic pregnancy where the egg is fertilised in the fallopian tube and the embryo grows outside of the uterus.
Endometriosis is where scar tissue causes the fallopian tubes to thicken. This gets worse with age and therefore the effect on fertility increases. This also heightens the chance of an ectopic pregnancy.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is where the ovaries rarely or irregularly release an egg due to a hormonal imbalance.
Weight can also be an issue when it comes to conceiving, especially for women with PCOS.
Fibroids are found in women over 30 and may cause fertility problems.
What you can do to help conception
To help conception, maintain a healthy diet and quit smoking and drinking if you do so. A kit can be bought to test for ovarian reserve; however the result is only the number of eggs, and not the quality of them. Whatever your age, look after your sexual health, as this can affect future fertility. It may also help to reduce your stress levels.
If you are over 35 and are having difficulty conceiving, contact your GP sooner rather than later.