What Is Infertility?
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse. Infertility may be attributed to the man, the woman, or both partners. Infertility does not mean that a couple is sterile and will never have a child. Approximately half of all couples who seek help for infertility will eventually conceive a child.
Sterility Vs. Infertility
Sterility means that it is impossible for a couple to conceive a child. A diagnosis of sterility is given after a thorough medical examination concludes that there is no sperm production and ovulation cannot occur. With infertility, the couple is not sterile, but for some reason they have not been able to conceive a child. There are three conditions that need to be met for conception to be possible: sperm must be present, the fallopian tubes must be open, and ovulation must be able to occur. If one or more of these conditions is not met, the couple suffers from infertility.
When Should A Couple Seek Treatment For Infertility?
A couple with both partners under 35 years old should consult a physician if they are unable to conceive after 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse. If the male or female is over 35 years old, they should consult a physician after six months if they are unable to conceive.
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Lifestyle Factors That May Cause Infertility
In some cases lifestyle factors such as obesity, smoking, and heavy alcohol or drug use can affect ovulation and sperm count and decrease levels of fertility. Some people may be more at risk for infertility which may include those with the following risk factors:
- Physical injuries to the reproductive organs
- Female physical conditions such as endometriosis, pelvic infection, polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Male physical conditions such as low sperm count, erectile dysfunction or varicoceles
- Genetic disorders
- Previous cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy
Is It More Common For Infertility In Women Or Men?
Many assume that the issue of infertility only affects women, however, it equally affects men. Approximately 40 percent of infertility cases are diagnosed in the male partner, 40 percent are diagnosed in the female partner and another 20 percent may be caused by a combination of issues with both partners, or the cause may be unexplained.
Treatment Options For Infertility In Women
Treatment may vary depending on the cause of infertility, however, some options to treat women with fertility problems may include:
- Fertility drugs to induce ovulation
- Surgery to repair blocked or damaged fallopian tubes
- Surgery to correct problems with the uterus
- Hormone treatments
Treatment Options For Infertility In Men
Treatment may vary depending on the cause of infertility, however, some options to treat men with fertility problems may include:
- Surgery to correct a varicocle
- Medication to correct impotence
- Sperm retrieval
- Hormone treatments
What Is Assisted Reproductive Technology?
Assisted reproductive technology are methods of treatment used to achieve pregnancy artificially with the assistance of medical technology. Assisted reproductive technology is used primarily to assist couples or patients with infertility problems. Forms of assisted reproductive technology may include intrauterine insemination, in vitro fertilization, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, donor eggs or sperm, or a surrogate.
What Is In Vitro Fertilization?
In vitro fertilization, or IVF, is a type of assisted reproductive technology in which eggs are harvested from a woman’s ovaries, and then fertilized in a laboratory with the sperm of either a donor or a male partner. The embryos are left to develop for several days, after which up to three of the healthiest embryos are placed in the uterus. The hope is that at least one embryo takes, resulting in a successful, full-term pregnancy. In vitro fertilization is usually recommended for patients who have not successfully conceived using other fertility options.
What Is Gestational Surrogacy?
Gestational surrogacy, also known as third-party reproduction, uses the assistance of a surrogate in order to carry a pregnancy to term. A surrogate is a woman who is implanted with a fertilized egg using in vitro fertilization, or IVF, on behalf of a patient or couple. Unlike classic surrogacy where a surrogate is inseminated with the sperm from the male and her own egg is used, carrying the baby to term on the couple’s behalf, the gestational surrogate has no genetic link to the child. In gestational surrogacy, an embryo may be produced entirely by the genetic parents, or from a combination of donated or genetic egg and sperm. The embryo is then placed into the uterus of the surrogate and carried to term. Gestational surrogacy is considered legally less risky than classic surrogacy and is the most common type of surrogacy chosen by couples or intended parents.
What Typically Causes Infertility?
A couple may have difficulty conceiving if either partner has certain reproductive issues.
Male Infertility May Occur When:
- Sperm production or quality is low. This may stem from infection, health problems, varicocele, lifestyle factors, cancer treatment, or other conditions.
- Sperm delivery is poor. This may be due to a blockage in a testicle, premature ejaculation, or other conditions.
Female Infertility May Occur When:
- Ovulation does not occur regularly. Ovulation releases the egg from the ovaries. Several factors may influence ovulation, including hormonal disorders, thyroid disorders, eating disorders, and other conditions.
- Abnormalities of the uterus or cervix exist. These may include noncancerous growths such as fibroids, polyps, or other conditions.
- The fallopian tube is blocked. A blocked fallopian tube may be caused by endometriosis, infection, or other conditions.
- Uterine tissue grows abnormally. This condition, called endometriosis, involves the growth of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus.
- Scar tissue has formed in the pelvic area. Scarring may be caused by endometriosis, infection, or other conditions.
- The ovaries stop working. Women may enter early menopause for a number of reasons, including radiation or chemotherapy, immune system disease, and other conditions.
What Is The Difference Between Male And Female Infertility?
Infertility in men and women is similar in that a health condition or other issue is blocking a part of the process. Male infertility involves some type of interruption in sperm production or delivery. In some cases, it is the quality of sperm that is inhibiting conception.
Female infertility may involve a variety of reproductive organs, such as the ovaries, the uterus, or the fallopian tubes. Problems at any stage in the process of ovulation, fertilization, or implantation of the fertilized egg can reduce the chances of a successful pregnancy.
What Is Recovery Like From Infertility Treatments?
Women can generally resume their normal activities after infertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization, right away. If surgery is performed to correct conditions affecting the uterus or fallopian tubes, patients may want to take it easy for a few days to manage post-operative tenderness or discomfort.
When you visit us for infertility treatment, your doctor will explain the entire process to you based on the findings of comprehensive testing. Once we understand the cause of your fertility issues, we can plan treatment accordingly and discuss matters such as recovery during each stage.
What Should I Expect From My Results?
Studies suggest that nearly three-quarters of all couples who undergo treatment for infertility eventually conceive. It is difficult to predict what treatment will work and for whom, even in the case of IVF. Data suggests that women under the age of 35 may have more success with infertility treatments. However, one Danish study of more than 20,000 couples revealed that 61% of women aged 35 to 40 had successful pregnancies within 5 years of treatment.
Are Infertility Treatments Painful?
Some infertility treatments may be uncomfortable. When necessary, a doctor will administer treatment using some form of anesthetic and/or sedation. Patient comfort is important to us and is a detail we discuss as we develop the best treatment plan based on each couple’s needs.