Have you been trying to start or grow your family? Have you encountered obstacles in this quest? These hindrances may have also caused you to question whether you are dealing with infertility.
First and foremost, it is best to define your condition by answering the question: what is infertility?
What is Infertility?
Infertility is when an individual or a couple faces difficulty conceiving a child despite having regular, unprotected sexual intercourse for up to or exceeding a year. It can affect men and women due to various factors discussed below.
Causes of Infertility
Causes of infertility often fall into one of four categories. Here is a more comprehensive look at each one:
1. Male factors:
a. Sperm production: Low sperm count, poor sperm quality, or abnormal sperm morphology can hinder the ability of sperm to fertilize an egg.
b. Sperm delivery: Conditions such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, or blockages in the reproductive system can obstruct the delivery of sperm.
c. Hormonal imbalances: Imbalances in testosterone or other hormones can affect sperm production and overall fertility.
d. Genetic factors: Chromosomal abnormalities or genetic mutations can lead to sperm defects and infertility.
e. Varicocele: Enlarging veins within the scrotum can impair sperm production and function.
f. Lifestyle factors: Smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use, stress, and obesity may all negatively impact male fertility.
2. Female factors:
a. Ovulation disorders: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), hypothalamic dysfunction, and premature ovarian failure can disrupt the release of eggs from the ovaries.
b. Fallopian tube damage or blockage: Infections, endometriosis, or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can damage or block the fallopian tubes, preventing sperm from reaching the egg.
c. Uterine or cervical abnormalities: Congenital uterine abnormalities, polyps, fibroids, or cervical stenosis can interfere with implantation or the ability of sperm to reach the egg.
d. Endometriosis: This condition (in which tissue akin to the uterine lining grows outside the uterus) may cause fertility issues due to scar tissue formation or adhesions.
e. Age: A woman’s age typically affects egg quantity and quality, reducing fertility.
f. Lifestyle factors: Poor diet, obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and stress can all negatively impact female fertility.
3. Combined factors:
In some cases, both partners may have fertility issues that contribute to the difficulty in conceiving.
4. Unexplained factors:
In approximately 10-15% of cases, the cause of infertility remains unexplained despite medical evaluation. This phenomenon is known as unexplained infertility.
Please note: Not all causes of infertility are permanent. For many, appropriate medical interventions, lifestyle modifications, or assisted reproductive techniques may help treat or manage the condition.
Testing For Infertility
Your doctor may perform several tests depending on your symptoms and medical history to assess for infertility. For example, tests for female infertility may include a general physical exam, a gynecological exam, ovulation testing, and hysterosalpingography (an X-ray that checks for blockages in the fallopian tubes). Additionally, your doctor may want to evaluate both partners. They may also recommend tests such as a semen analysis for men.
Seeking Help For Infertility
If your attempts to conceive have spanned more than a year (or six months if you are over 35) without success, it may be time to seek help for infertility. First, however, it’s important to note that infertility is not always solely due to the female partner. Both partners should undergo testing and evaluation to determine the underlying cause.
Suppose you have any underlying medical conditions or a history of specific reproductive issues, such as irregular periods or sexually transmitted infections; in that case, seeking help earlier than the typical one-year mark may be advisable.
Additionally, if you have experienced multiple miscarriages or been diagnosed with certain medical conditions affecting fertility, you may want to seek help sooner.
If you are concerned about your ability to conceive, speaking with your healthcare provider is essential. They will guide the next steps and help determine if a referral to a fertility specialist is required.