Why is infertility diagnosed differently depending on a woman’s age?

Age affects fertility, and it’s not uncommon for women to experience an increasing number of fertility problems as they get older. Because of the various age-related changes that women who are trying to get pregnant experience, infertility is diagnosed differently depending on age.

How does female fertility change over time?

As women get older, a few things happen to their bodies that decrease their fertility. Fertility is typically at its peak during a woman’s 20s, but with aging comes a decrease in both egg supply and egg quality, and the ovaries may have a harder time ovulating. Aging also leads to a greater risk of miscarriage, as well as conditions of infertility that might affect the chances of conception. One example is endometriosis: the longer endometriosis is undiagnosed and untreated, the more it will grow, presenting a greater and greater risk of problems conceiving as time goes on.

How is infertility diagnosed differently over time?

Infertility is diagnosed depending on a woman’s age, and how long she has been trying to conceive.

Infertility is diagnosed in women under 35 when they have been trying for a year to conceive without success. Women who are 35 and older are diagnosed as infertile when they’ve been trying for six months without success.

Options for treatment

Women who are struggling with infertility can try a number of options to improve their chances of getting pregnant. Two that are especially relevant to women over the age of 35 are fertility medication, and assisted reproductive technologies (ART).

  • Medication: Women can try certain medications that change the amount of reproductive hormones in their body.
  • Assisted reproductive technology (ART): Some fertility treatments, like in vitro fertilization (IVF) involve removing eggs from the body, fertilizing them with sperm in a laboratory, and then implanting them in the uterus. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2013, ART was successful for 32% of women between the ages of 35-37, and 21% of women between the ages of 38-40.

Aging and fertility: the bottom line

Many things get better with age. When it comes to fertility, though, things get a little harder as time goes on. The best thing that women can do as they get older is to be aware of how time affects fertility, so that if they find themselves struggling with infertility, they can understand why it might be happening, and what options they have for treatment. Many women over the age of 35 are able to get pregnant, but in quite a few cases, it takes a little extra intervention for them to start the family they’ve always wanted.

Read more
  • “Infertility FAQs.” CDC.gov. US Department of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control, Apr 21 2016. Web.
  • “Aging and infertility in women.” The Practice Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Vol 86 Sup 4. Web. Nov 2006.
  • “Female Age-Related Fertility Decline.” Obstet Gynecol. Committee Opinion no. 589. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 123:719–21. Web. Mar 2014.
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