Are you and your partner are saddled with the challenge of infertility? You are not alone. In fact, infertility is more common than a lot of people think; it can occur in people of both sexes and is caused by a myriad of reasons. The good news is that there have been a lot of advances in medicine to help people achieve conception if they want. We will continue our series on infertility and In vitro Fertilization with this post.
WHAT IS INFERTILITY?
Infertility is the inability to conceive after months of unprotected Intercourse. This means that a couple is not able to become pregnant after a year of trying. However, for women aged 35 years and older, the inability to conceive after six months is considered infertility.
HOW COMMON IS IT?
Infertility affects about 10-15% of couples – that is 1 in 7 couples. This makes it one of the most common diseases for people between the ages of 20 and 45. Most couples without the challenge of infertility will conceive within a year of trying.
WHAT CAUSES INFERTILITY?
Infertility can be caused by different factors, it could be an issue with either you or your partner or a combination of other factors such as:
- Age: A woman’s age can have a big effect on her ability to have a baby, especially as she grows into her 30s and 40s. For a healthy woman in her 20s or early 30s, the chances of conceiving each month is about 25-30% but by the age of 40 and above, the chances are slimmer – about 10% or less.
- Ovulation problems: If a woman does not ovulate (release eggs) about once a month, she may have a difficult time getting pregnant. Problems like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thyroid disease and other hormonal disorders can affect ovulation and lead to infertility. Women who do not have a regular menstrual cycle often do not ovulate, same with overweight and underweight women – they are more likely to have problems with ovulation than women who are not.
- Damaged or blocked fallopian tube: The fallopian tubes are the tubes attached to the uterus where the sperm and egg meet. When they are blocked, it results in infertility or an ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus). The chances of ending up with blocked tubes are higher in women who have had endometriosis, surgery in the pelvis or sexually transmitted infections.
- Cervical/Uterine Abnormalities: Abnormalities within the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus, may impair fertility. They are however rarely the sole cause of infertility. It is important for the physician to know the detailed medical history of the patient. Problems within the uterus may interfere with the implantation of the embryo or may increase the incidence of miscarriage. Possible uterine abnormalities that may be identified include scar tissue, polyps, fibroids or an abnormally shaped uterine cavity.
- Peritoneal Abnormalities: These refer to abnormalities involving the peritoneum (lining of the surfaces of the internal organs) such as scar tissue (adhesions) or endometriosis. Endometriosis is a condition where a tissue that normally lines the uterus begins to grow outside the uterus. This tissue may grow on any structure within the pelvis including the ovaries, and is found in about 35% of women dealing with infertility with no other diagnosable infertility problem.
- Male Factor: A third of all cases of infertility are because of problems in the male partner. In another third of these cases, infertility is due to a combination of male and female problems. In men, infertility can be caused by the inability to ejaculate sperm. The quality of sperm released is also important and is measured by the amount, movement and the shape of sperm. Sometimes, other medical problems can affect a man’s inability to produce normal amount and quality of sperm. Men with diabetes for instance may have trouble ejaculating; those with cystic fibrosis may have a blockage that prevents the sperm from being ejaculated.
- Unexplained Infertility: In some -10% or more cases – there may not be an obvious reason why a couple cannot conceive, this is referred to as unexplained infertility.
WHEN SHOULD YOU SEE A SPECIALIST?
Generally, a couple should see a specialist if they have not been able to conceive within 12 months of trying. If a woman is 35 or older, she should see a fertility specialist if she hasn’t gotten pregnant after 6months of trying. If a woman is younger than 35 but has a family history of early menopause, other health problems that can cause early menopause or has had certain cancer treatment, then she should consider seeking help sooner.
A couple might also seek fertility consultation soon if there are risks of infertility such as an irregular menstrual cycle or potential Fallopian tube damage. Men who have had any prior health problems that can increase the risks of infertility, such as childhood problems with the testicles or even prior cancer treatments should consider fertility consultations sooner than later.