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Female Infertility

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 25, 2024.

What is Female Infertility?

Harvard Health Publishing

Most couples who have unprotected sex at least twice per week are able to become pregnant within one year. If pregnancy does not occur after one year, the man and woman are diagnosed as having an infertility problem.

Infertility can result from problems in the man, the woman or both partners. In some couples, no cause of infertility can be found. In other couples, more than one cause exists.

Normal aging reduces a woman's ability to become pregnant. As a woman grows older, ovulation—the process of forming and releasing an egg—becomes slower and less effective.

Aging begins to reduce fertility as early as age 30. Pregnancy rates are very low after age 44. This is true even when fertility medications are used.


The primary symptom of infertility is difficulty getting pregnant. Various causes of infertility may result in additional symptoms.

Any of the following problems may cause infertility:

Common causes of infrequent ovulation include:

Hormonal abnormalities can delay or prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg. Symptoms that suggest a hormone abnormality include:

Damage can result from:

Scar tissue can develop within the uterus as a complication of:

Such scar tissue can lead to infrequent periods or minimal menstrual flow.

Female Infertility


The first step in diagnosing female infertility is determining whether ovulation is occurring at predictable intervals. When an egg is released, it causes a shift in the body's sex hormones.

This shift in sex hormones can be detected with these tests:

Your doctor will examine your vagina and pelvic organs. A sample of mucus from your cervix and vagina may be tested for possible infection.

If necessary, blood tests may be used to:

Other tests may also help to determine the cause of infertility. These examine the physical structure of pelvic organs.

During a hysteroscopy, your doctor can see the inside of your uterus. He or she can obtain biopsies. In some cases, the doctor can remove polyps, fibroids or scar tissue.

Laparoscopy allows your doctor to view the outside of your uterus and inspect your ovaries. Sometimes, it is possible to remove ovarian cysts or scar tissue during a laparoscopy.

Expected Duration

A fertility evaluation usually extends over several months. The evaluation requires numerous tests. Some tests must be done during a specific time in the menstrual cycle.

The treatments also require time, careful planning and repeated office visits.

With continued frequent sexual intercourse, infertile couples have a small chance of getting pregnant even without treatment.


You can optimize your chances of getting pregnant in a number of ways.

Some treatments for cancer can cause infertility. Certain techniques allow a woman planning to undergo chemotherapy or radiation to later have a baby from her own egg. Discuss these with your doctor before beginning cancer treatment.


Treatment depends on the results of your infertility evaluation. Some causes of infertility have a specific treatment. For example, surgery may be done to remove a fibroid tumor.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

Fertility Drugs

Infertility may be associated with infrequent or absent ovulation. This often can be treated with hormone medications. These are called fertility drugs.

All fertility medications have potential side effects. And they can cause multiple babies in one pregnancy. Most fertility treatments require the supervision of a fertility specialist.

Examples of fertility medicines include:

These medicines are sometimes given after treatment with another hormone medicine, a GnRH analogue. A GnRH analogue prepares the body for a precisely timed cycle of ovulation.

Surgical Procedures

After treatment with fertility drugs, eggs can be allowed to travel naturally from the ovary into the uterus, if the fallopian tubes are healthy. Sometimes surgery is used to harvest the mature eggs after fertility drug treatment.

Examples of procedures that can help to start a pregnancy include:


It is important to get counseling about all options for parenthood. This includes procedures for adoption.

When To Call a Professional

Speak with a physician after one year of unsuccessfully trying to conceive. At this point, you may want to begin an infertility evaluation.

If you are over 35, consider consulting your physician after four to six months of trying to conceive. Pregnancy is less likely to occur without fertility treatment at this age.

If you are undergoing any fertility treatment, notify your infertility specialist about pelvic pain and abdominal swelling.


The chance of a successful pregnancy depends on the cause of infertility. More than half of couples who seek infertility treatments eventually become pregnant.


Additional Information

American Society for Reproductive Medicine

RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association


Learn more about Female Infertility

Treatment options

Care guides

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.