Infertility: Warning Signs and Symptoms in Men and Women

5 min
Updated Mar 26th, 2024

Table of contents

Thankfully, people are far more aware of and open to the subject of infertility now than they have been in the past. This has resulted in couples being mindful of the fact that the journey towards having children can often be challenging. If you are just starting or have been trying for a short while without success, you might be wondering whether there are any early warning signs of fertility complications which you can begin to address now.

How is infertility diagnosed? 

If you’ve been trying for over a year and haven’t conceived the NHS recommend that you book an appointment with your GP immediately. If you are a woman and over the age of 36 you should book with your GP after just 6 months of trying, as age directly effects your fertility. The purpose of this is to help you to find out why you are struggling to conceive.  

If you have been trying for just a few months and are beginning to wonder if you are infertile, you shouldn’t worry yet. The reason the NHS advise you to wait to book an appointment with your GP is that 84% of couples will conceive naturally within a year if they have regular unprotected sex. 

The NHS also recommend that you book an appointment with your GP sooner if you are aware you may have fertility problems. The problem with this is that most people will be completely unaware they have issues with fertility until they start to try.

So, what are the early warning signs that I might have issues with my fertility?

Signs of infertility in women

Symptoms of hormone imbalance 

If you have acne, unwanted hair growth or issues with your weight then you could may have some disturbance in your hormone balance. These symptoms may be signs of your body producing an excess of androgens or male hormones. This is closely associated with infertility, in particular PCOS. Another symptom of hormone imbalance is having irregular periods… 

Irregular periods 

The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long, although anything within a few days of this would be considered regular. Irregular cycles are when women are unable to even estimate approximately when their next cycle will begin. Infrequent or irregular periods can be a result of issues with ovulation and are another warning sign of infertility.

Painful and heavy periods  

This can be a sign of endometriosis, a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Endometriosis can cause complications with fertility, thought to be because of damage to these areas. 

Months without a period 

If you had been having regular periods before but have now gone months without having one, you should get a check-up on your fertility 

Signs of infertility in men

Difficulty getting or maintaining an erection 

Whilst erectile dysfunction (ED) is often associated with stress, it can be a direct result of reduced hormone levels. Having reduced hormone levels does not only effect sexual performance, but it also causes issues with sperm production.

Dull ache in the testicles

Having a dull ache in your testicles or dilated veins in the scrotum can be a sign of suffering from a varicocele. Having a varicocele often means a decrease in both sperm quality and sperm count. If you are experiencing this pain, you should book an appointment with your doctor to have it examined. 

Discoloured or foul-smelling ejaculate

If your ejaculate is yellow in colour or smells foul/rotten you might be suffering from an infection in your prostate. This could be a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Often, changes in smell and colour of semen are temporary but if this problem occurs you should set up an appointment with your doctor. 

Small testicles 

Unusually small testicles are often associated with hypogonadism, a condition where your testicles are not producing enough testosterone and sperm. Clearly, this has an adverse effect on your fertility so, if you are concerned about your testicle size, please arrange to see your GP. 

What are the main causes of infertility in men and women?

Infertility can be caused by a range of different factors. For women, infertility is often the result of ovulation problems which can be caused by conditions such as PCOS, premature ovarian failure, thyroid problems, cervical mucus complications, fibroids, endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease.

For men, infertility is often caused by poor-quality semen which can be the result of low sperm count, low sperm motility, ejaculation disorders, hypogonadism or testicular problems.

What risk factors can lead to infertility in men and women?

There are also a number of risk factors which can lead to infertility in both men and women, including:

  • Age – fertility is known to gradually decrease with age. For females, fertility declines in the mid-30s, especially after 37. Male fertility also decreases with age, although this doesn’t usually have a significant impact until the age of around 40. 
  • Weight – being underweight or overweight can affect your chances of getting pregnant. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can help improve your chances. 
  • Lifestyle – smoking tobacco, using recreational drugs or drinking alcohol can all affect hormone production, harm the reproductive system and significantly impact fertility.

What should you do if you’re experiencing signs of infertility?

If you’ve noticed any signs of infertility or have been trying to conceive for a year without success, you should book an appointment with your GP. Your GP will then be able to carry out an initial assessment to investigate what may be causing your fertility problems and advise what your next steps should be. 

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