In addition to the numerous health complications obese women face, reproduction problems are some of the most common ones. Menstrual irregularities, infertility, and miscarriages are prevalent amongst women with a BMI over 25 years of age.
It is important to note, however, that not all obese women experience reproductive disorders. Many obese women are fertile and have children, but the risk of reproductive disorders increases once women reach an obese weight.
Several studies have examined the correlation between obesity and infertility. In one study, the body mass index in 597 women diagnosed with ovulatory infertility was compared at seven infertility clinics in the United States and Canada. It indicated that the risk of ovulatory infertility is highest in obese women but is also slightly increased in moderately overweight and underweight women.
Problems in Ovulation
One of the main causes of infertility in obese women is ovulation and menstruation irregularity. Fat cells cause an unsteady supply of estrogen that interferes with the normal function of the ovaries.
There are two sources of estrogen in the body: the ovary and the adrenal gland. The ovary produces estrogen, while the adrenal gland makes androstenedione. These hormones are a normal part of the ovulation process.
However, if there is an exorbitant amount of fat cells present, they will turn the adrenal androstenedione into another form of estrogen called estrone. If you are significantly overweight, the steady input of estrone will interfere with the normal cycle of your ovaries. This will undoubtedly cause menstrual irregularities, and thus decrease your chances of conception.
Other Obesity-Related Reproductive Problems
- An increased risk of miscarriage
- A complication of pregnancy with gestational diabetes
- A poor response to fertility drugs
- A higher risk of contracting polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- Higher chances of neural tube defects in the developing fetus.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD