genetics

How Much of a Role Do Genes and Family History Play in Fertility?

Can you blame your parents if you’re having trouble getting pregnant?

The short answer is probably not. Your family history is not the biggest factor—or even one of the biggest factors—that affects your fertility.

But let’s take a quick look at infertility causes first.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) defines infertility as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected sexual intercourse. However, that definition is limited because it only applies to women under 35. If you’re a woman over 35 and haven’t gottent pregnant within six months of trying, it’s time to consult a reproductive endocrinologist. A reproductive endocrinologist can help you determine the possible causes of infertility

A number of factors can and do contribute to infertility. In women, the most likely cause is an ovulation disorder. But the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) suggests infertility could also be the result of problems with the reproductive organs, such as a congenital abnormality of the uterine structure or blocked fallopian tubes that occurred after endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease. Uterine fibroids can also be a culprit.

For women, age is another big contributing factor. The likelihood that a woman  will become pregnant during any particular menstrual cycle begins to decline when she’s in her early 30s. As she ages, the number and quality of her eggs decline.

In men, the amount or health of the sperm are the most likely culprits for infertility.

But genetics may still play a role. You or your partner may carry some type of genetic abnormality called a “translocation” that may be complicating your situation. A translocation occurs when some of your chromosomes have become rearranged. As a result, the egg or sperm may be unbalanced, genetically speaking. It can cause problems in the development of a healthy embryo and lead to miscarriage.

And unfortunately, experts don’t know what causes infertility in about 20% of women. We also can’t pinpoint the cause of recurrent miscarriages in a small minority of women—about 1 or 2%.

Family history probably only plays a small role in a woman’s ability to conceive or carry a health pregnancy. One possible situation in which family history can play a role is in the disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS can impede a woman’s ability to conceive, and it does tend to run in families. So if your mom had PCOS, you may be more likely to have PCOS. And it could be playing a role in your ability to conceive.

The bottom line: if you’ve been trying unsuccessfully for a number of months to get pregnant, it may be time to see an expert. Your doctor can assess you for a number of medical conditions that may be the root of your inability to conceive and provide options for how to proceed.

ou and your partner can also undergo screening to assess your risk of passing down a genetic condition to your future offspring. While a family history of many genetic conditions may not interfere with your ability to get pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term, you may still want to have that knowledge.  Genetic counseling can give you a clearer picture.

Author Info

Jenny Shanks