Infertility is a difficult issue that affects many couples. However, there is still hope for men and women dealing with infertility issues to achieve pregnancy. In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about infertility, potential causes, testing and treatment options.
Everyone has heard about infertility, but few know what it actually means. It doesn’t describe everyone who has difficulty getting pregnant. Defined by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, infertility is the result of a disease of the male or female reproductive tract which prevents the conception of a child or the ability to carry a pregnancy to delivery.
Infertility can affect anyone, which isn’t how the media often portrays it. For instance, most infertility stories focus on women’s infertility. But one-third of all infertile couples are affected by men’s fertility. In another one-third of infertile couples, the infertility is with the man and the woman.
Infertility is more common than you may think. Since there is relatively low awareness about infertility, it’s rarely talked about. But according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, about 15% of couples are unable to conceive after 1 year of having unprotected sex. After 2 years, 10% of couples are still unable to have a baby. In contrast, 40 to 60% of relatively healthy couples under age 30 can conceive within the first 3 months of having unprotected sex.
Your body has to go through multiple ovulation steps correctly to get pregnant. Because of this, many steps can potentially go wrong. Infertility issues can be present at birth or they can happen later in life.
Infertility can happen for males and females. Men’s infertility causes may include:
- Abnormal sperm function or production – enlarged veins in the testes can affect the quality of sperm. Abnormal sperm can be attributed to genetic defects, diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, mumps, HIV, or other health problems such as diabetes.
- Damage related to cancer – chemotherapy and radiation can seriously impair sperm production.
- Poor sperm delivery – premature ejaculation can cause problems with sperm delivery. Blockages in the testicle or damage to reproductive organs can hinder sperm delivery. Certain genetic diseases can also cause problems with sperm delivery, such as cystic fibrosis.
- Environmental factors – overexposure to pesticides and other chemicals can affect sperm quality. Drugs, alcohol, and medications that treat high blood pressure and alcohol can also affect sperm production. Heat exposure such as hot tubs can also raise body temperature and affect sperm.
Common women’s infertility causes include:
- Uterine or cervical issues – polyps in the uterus, uterine fibroids, and other abnormalities in the cervix can block fallopian tubes or otherwise prevent a fertilized egg from implantation
- Endometriosis – endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus, which may affect the uterus, fallopian tube, and ovary function.
- Ovulation disorders – ovulation is supposed to occur every month. Ovulation disorders prevent normal ovulation, such as eating disorders, too much exercise, and tumors. Ovulation disorders also include hormonal disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome, hyperthyroidism, or hypothyroidism.
- Damage or blockage to the fallopian tube – damage to the fallopian tube can prevent the egg from successfully implanting. Causes are usually due to fallopian tube inflammation, typically from a sexually transmitted infection or endometriosis.
- Early menopause – also known as Primary Ovarian Insufficiency, when the ovaries stop working before age 40.
- Damage related to cancer – radiation and chemotherapy can severely impact reproductive functions. Reproductive cancers particularly affect fertility.
If you’re a healthy couple under 35, your doctor may not recommend looking into infertility options until you’ve tried to get pregnant for at least a year. If you’re over the age of 35, you may want to consider seeking infertility treatment after you try to conceive for 6 months.
Men’s infertility testing often involves semen analysis, which tests sperm count, sperm shape, and motility. Blood tests will check for hormone levels, which can affect sperm production. In some cases, the doctor will do an ultrasound of the scrotum to find problems directly in the testicles.
Women’s basic testing involves laboratory tests, typically including samples of blood and urine. These can show how often you ovulate, thyroid function, hormone levels, and egg supply. Ultrasound exams are used to check the health of the uterus.
Unfortunately, some infertility causes cannot be corrected. Depending on the cause, age, and how long you’ve been trying to conceive there are multiple infertility treatment options.
For men, infertility treatment options include:
- Engaging in a healthy lifestyle
- Fertility medication
- Sperm retrieval techniques
Depending on the infertility causes, women’s infertility treatment may include:
- Fertility drugs
- Intrauterine insemination
If you are dealing with infertility or are unsure, you aren’t alone. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns or questions about your reproductive health.
Are you looking for an OB/Gyn you can trust? Do you live in the Tucson area? Book an appointment today!