What is infertility?
Infertility is difficulty in conceiving a pregnancy. This general term does not identify the cause of the problem or whether it will be permanent.
When is a couple considered to have infertility?
Physicians and researchers consider a couple to have infertility if, despite regular intercourse without using birth control, they have not conceived for at least a year.
Fifteen to 20 percent of couples will not conceive despite a year of trying. However, this does not mean that they will not conceive later on, even without treatment. Some investigators consider two years without conception to be a better indicator of a couple’s need for assistance.
More than 90 percent of couples will have achieved a pregnancy within two years.
When an individual has no chance to conceive without treatment (for example, a woman does not ovulate or has two blocked fallopian tubes), it is sometimes called sterility.
Is infertility a male or female problem?
Infertility is now recognized to be a couple’s issue and is just as likely to stem from problems in the female or the male partner. After couples with infertility undergo testing, about 40 percent of the cases are found to stem from female factors and another 40 percent from male factors.
In 10 percent of couples, infertility factors are found in both the man and woman. In the remaining 10 percent, the infertility remains unexplained after testing.
Because either or both may be involved, it is important to test both the man and woman before starting treatment. No matter what the cause, most treatments require the active participation of both partners.
If I had a baby once, can I be infertile now?
Yes. Secondary infertility is the name given when the problem arises in a couple who have been able to get pregnant in the past. Sometimes a new factor, such as an infection, has damaged the reproductive organs since the last child was born. Sometimes the aging process makes it more difficult for a couple to conceive, even if they had no problems when they were younger.
Secondary infertility is even more common than infertility in couples who have never achieved a pregnancy.
What causes infertility?
For a couple to conceive and carry a pregnancy, four parts of the reproductive system must be working adequately:
- A woman’s ovaries must be regularly producing and releasing good-quality eggs.
- Normal sperm must be produced in high enough numbers and delivered during sexual intercourse.
- The reproductive passageways must be clear enough for: a) sperm to enter the uterus (through the cervix) and swim into the tubes to unite with the egg b) the egg or early embryo to travel to the uterus (through the fallopian tubes).
- The lining of the uterus must be capable of having the embryo implant, and of sustaining the pregnancy.
Many types of problems – including hormone abnormalities or blockages caused by infection or scar tissue – can affect one or more of these functions.
Is infertility becoming more common?
According to national data, there has not been a major increase in the proportion of couples who are infertile. However, many more women are seeking medical services for the diagnosis and treatment of infertility – particularly those who have not previously had any children.
Does age affect fertility?
In general, women’s fertility begins to decline gradually after age 30, with a steep drop between 35 and 45. This means that, on average, it takes longer for a woman over 35 to conceive, and women are then more likely to be diagnosed with infertility. Pregnancies in women over 35 are also more likely to miscarry.
The most predictable age-related change is a gradual reduction in the number and quality of eggs produced as a woman enters her late thirties. As she nears menopause, eggs are not released in more and more of a woman’s menstrual cycles, making conception impossible.
Why does age negatively impact fertility?
As women age, they are more likely to have had illnesses or medical treatments that can compromise fertility. Some of these affect the reproductive system directly, such as endometriosis, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), surgery on the reproductive organs, or ectopic pregnancies. Others are general medical problems that can damage fertility, such as hypothyroidism, high blood pressure, diabetes and lupus.
As they age, men may also be exposed to infections, medications, or occupational or environmental chemicals that can impair fertility. However, they do not experience the same dramatic and predictable age-related decline as women.
Because of the increased possibility of fertility problems, women over the age of 35 are often counseled to seek medical advice if they attempt to conceive for six months without success. However, because conception is likely to take longer in these women, some experts suggest that couples give themselves more, rather than less, time to conceive before seeking medical help.
Couples must find a balance between not allowing enough time for conception and delaying too long (making treatment less likely to succeed).
Does stress cause infertility?
Although the statement “just relax and you’ll get pregnant” is generally well-intentioned, it has been very hurtful to couples with infertility. Two decades ago, researchers thought that almost half of infertility in women could be attributed to stress and psychological factors. Nowadays infertility is better understood, and stress is recognized primarily as a result, rather than a cause, of fertility problems. However, there is evidence that stress can have a negative impact on sperm and egg production. Research is ongoing to help understand how stress may influence fertility and the success of treatment.
Can infertility be prevented?
Sometimes. By learning about the known causes of infertility, young men and women can reduce the risk that they will face this challenge when they decide to start a family
How can infertility be prevented?
Some strategies for prevention:
Take precautions (such as the use of condoms) to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). STDs, particularly gonorrhea and chlamydia, can infect the reproductive tract and cause blocked fallopian tubes or sperm-carrying ducts.
Seek prompt treatment for potential STDs. STDs cause more harm to fertility if they are untreated or not completely treated.
When selecting a birth control method, learn about its possible impact on future fertility and make that an important factor in your decision.
Make medical decisions with fertility in mind. Inquire about the impact of medications, including herbal supplements, on reproduction in men and women. If you develop a gynecologic condition, such as a uterine fibroid, endometriosis, or abnormal Pap smear, ask which treatments are most likely to preserve your fertility.
Make fertility-enhancing lifestyle choices. In men, excess heat exposure can lower fertility. Cigarette smoking is associated with an abnormal semen count in men. In women, smoking can reduce fertility and raise the risk of miscarriage. Being underweight, losing weight rapidly, or exercising at an extreme level can impair fertility in both men and women. In women, obesity is also associated with lower fertility. For some couples, changing exercise habits or achieving a more healthful body weight leads to conception with no medical treatment.
Allow sufficient time to attempt conception. Many infertility factors do not make it impossible to conceive but lower the chance with each cycle. This lengthens the amount of time conception is likely to take. If you do not try to become pregnant until late in your reproductive years, or if you count on conceiving within a short time period, you are more likely to be unsuccessful and to assume you need medical help – even if you might be capable, given enough time, of conceiving without treatment.
Can infertility be cured?
Some treatments correct factors that cause infertility. Infertility can be reversed and a couple should be able to achieve one or more pregnancies. In contrast, other therapies are used to establish pregnancy in a treatment cycle without permanently correcting the underlying problem.
In some cases, therapies can improve or correct an underlying medical condition that makes it difficult to conceive. Women with endometriosis, cervical infections, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or hormonal imbalances can be treated, thus easing barriers to conception.
When a woman has blocked or damaged fallopian tubes, surgery to repair them is an example of treatment aimed at curing infertility. If it is successful (meaning the tube is both open and able to function normally), she should be able to conceive one or more times without further medical intervention. However, many experts believe that, for most women with blocked tubes, the chance of becoming pregnant is greater using in vitro fertilization (a technique to get around the problem) than surgery.
When considering various treatments, ask whether each approach is supposed to circumvent infertility or cure it. Get information about the chance of success with each approach (in light of your age and diagnosis) and its. Supplementation with a number of nutrients, and/or vitamins and minerals, may support human fertility addressing different problems in this process.
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