What are the common causes of infertility?

Infertility — or the inability to get pregnant — is not uncommon. It affects about 12 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although infertility problems in general aren’t tied to any single medical condition, some women are more predisposed to having them. But what causes infertility in women?

It turns out there are several different causes of female infertility. Some women have no noticeable symptoms other than being unable to get pregnant. Others may experience pain and discomfort from a chronic medical condition.

Here are a few of the most common causes of infertility in women.

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Common Causes of Infertility

Ovulation disorder

When the pituitary gland, which regulates the body’s hormones and menstrual cycle, is not functioning properly, it can lead to an ovulation disorder. Some women may have no ovulation or very irregular menstrual cycles due to a hormonal imbalance that can be caused by stress, a thyroid disorder, being overweight or underweight, and poor nutrition.


Endometriosis, one of the top three causes of infertility in women, occurs when the tissue that lines the uterus grows outside of the uterus. This tissue also bleeds with each menstrual cycle, causing inflammation and pain. Scarring can build up and damage the ovaries or block the fallopian tubes, leading to infertility.

Polycystic ovary syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a common hormonal imbalance that interferes with the production or release of eggs in the ovaries. Women with PCOS may experience irregular menstrual cycles or prolonged menstrual periods. Other symptoms of include weight gain, insulin resistance, and skin problems. Some women, however, have no symptoms at all. These variations make it difficult to diagnose PCOS.

Fallopian tube blockage

Fallopian tubes, which connect the ovaries to the uterus, can become inflamed or blocked as a result of endometriosis scarring, infection, pelvic inflammatory disease, and other reasons. Since most eggs are fertilized in the fallopian tubes, the condition can interfere with conception.


Women over the age of 35 have a smaller number of eggs. Because the number of eggs declines year after year, it may become increasingly difficult for women to conceive as they age.

Other causes of female infertility include autoimmune diseases and certain types of cancer, especially if the cancer is treated with chemotherapy or radiation.

It’s important to know, however, that the inability to conceive a child can be due to a condition in either partner.

For more information about infertility, or if you’d like to make an appointment with a fertility specialist, contact UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.

About UPMC Magee-Womens

Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.

Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.