So, what is infertility, and how do we cure it? Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple. Just as every individual is unique, the same is true of their fertility. Infertility is defined as the inability to achieve pregnancy after one year if a woman is under 35 years of age, and after six months if a woman is 35 or older.
At least one in six couples have trouble getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. In the United States alone, approximately 7.4 million women experience infertility. The average young couple without known reproductive issues has about a 20% chance of achieving pregnancy in any given month, and it is not uncommon for couples to try for six months before they become pregnant.
How is Infertility Diagnosed?
If you experience any signs of infertility, you should meet with a fertility doctor to discuss your chances of conceiving and available treatment options immediately. Common indications of infertility include:
- Family history of genetic disease
- Irregular or absent periods
- Issues with erection or ejaculation
- The male partner is undergoing testosterone treatment
- Prior fibroid diagnosis
- Prior surgical history on the tubes, ovaries or uterus
- Prior surgical history on the testes
- Repeated pregnancy loss or miscarriage
- A vasectomy or tubal ligation has been performed
After discussing your medical history and symptoms, your doctor will probably prescribe basic fertility testing. For a female, testing will involve an AFC ultrasound to assess ovarian reserve and fertility potential, as well as bloodwork to evaluate ovarian function and reserve.
The male partner will undergo a physical exam and a laboratory semen analysis to assess sperm count, shape, and movement.
Additionally, a doctor may choose to perform a saline sonohysterogram (SHG) or a hysterosalpingogram (HSH) on the woman to rule out blockages or masses in the fallopian tubes and uterus.
What is Infertility in Women?
Ovulatory disorders are one of the most common causes of infertility in women. If you have an ovulatory disorder, you may ovulate infrequently or not at all. The symptoms of ovulatory disorders include irregular or absent menstrual cycles.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of female infertility. In a regular monthly cycle, follicles develop, and one egg is released into the fallopian tubes during ovulation. In women with PCOS, the hormones that mature eggs are not present, which prevents ovulation and causes cysts to form on the ovaries.
According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, recurrent pregnancy loss is defined as two or more consecutive miscarriages. Common causes of recurrent pregnancy loss include genetic disorders, hormone imbalance, uterine abnormality, and undiagnosed medical conditions.
Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) is the significantly diminished or absent ovarian function before the age of 40 and affects 1-2% of women. Signs and symptoms of POI are irregular or skipped periods, early ovulation, hot flashes, and mood lability.
Diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) refers to a decline in the number and quality of the remaining eggs in the ovaries or a poor response to ovarian stimulation. Causes of a diminished ovarian reserve include smoking, endometriosis, previous ovarian surgery, exposure to toxic chemicals, chemotherapy, or radiation.
Less common causes of infertility issues in women include:
- Blocked or damaged fallopian tubes
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Surgery in the abdomen or pelvis
- Uterine polyps or tumors
- Uterine abnormalities
- Abnormal cervical mucus
What is Infertility in Men?
While published statistics focus on women, it is important to note that male infertility diagnoses are just as common. In most cases, there are no apparent signs of infertility in men without testing.
Generally, male infertility is caused by deficiencies in the semen, which include low sperm production, abnormal sperm function, or blockages that prevent the delivery of sperm. Common male fertility conditions are:
- Varicocele – Varicocele is the most common reversible cause of male infertility. It is a condition of swollen testicle veins that is present in 15% of all men and approximately 40% of infertile men.
- Klinefelter Syndrome – Klinefelter Syndrome is a chromosomal defect that occurs in males early in the womb. It results in smaller testes, which reduces testosterone levels and sperm production that naturally occurs.
- Immune infertility related to anti-sperm antibodies – When the immune system mistakes sperm for a harmful intruder cell and tries to destroy them, it is considered a cause of infertility nearly 20% of infertile couples.
Male sperm production can also be abnormal. The most common reasons include:
- Azoospermia – When there is no measurable level of sperm in the semen.
- Necrospermia – When the sperm is either immobile or dead.
- Oligospermia – When there is a low concentration of sperm in the semen. Typically, there is a higher percentage of abnormal sperm cells.
Unexplained Causes of Infertility
Unfortunately, both men and women experience unexplained causes of infertility. Approximately 1 in 4 couples will be told there is no explanation for their inability to conceive.
Lifestyle Changes You Can Make
Although there is no cure for infertility, you can make lifestyle changes that increase your chances of conception. The following changes apply to women and men:
- Avoid alcohol
- Avoid illicit drugs
- Limit caffeine
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Quit smoking
- Reduce stress
Vios Fertility Institute Provides Hope and Help for Fertility
If you have been trying to conceive for six months or a year, it may be time to meet with a fertility specialist. At Vios Fertility Institute, we provide cutting-edge treatment, led by an exceptional clinical team, combined with unparalleled patient experience in a nurturing environment.
We have clinic locations throughout Chicagoland, Milwaukee, and St. Louis and patient consultations are available via telehealth.
To schedule your consultation, contact us today.