What is Infertility?
Infertility is the inability to get pregnant after one year of regularly having unprotected sexual intercourse. In order for pregnancy to occur naturally, a woman must release a healthy egg from her ovaries at just the right time for it to be fertilized by the healthy sperm of a man. Then the fertilized egg, called an embryo, must pass from the fallopian tube and implant in the uterus.
When a couple is struggling to conceive, it is usually because something is going wrong in that natural process. In women, infertility may be caused by hormonal imbalances affecting ovulation (the release of the egg) or by conditions affecting the physical structure of the reproductive organs such as endometriosis or blocked fallopian tubes. In men, infertility can be caused by issues related to poor sperm health or quantity, a blockage or erectile dysfunction. Genetic issues can also cause infertility in both men and women.
Infertility is common, affecting 1 in 8 couples in the United States. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, about one-third of infertility cases are due to male factors and one-third are due to female factors. The remaining third are caused by a combination of male and female factors or diagnosed as unexplained infertility.
Quick Look at Causes of Infertility
Infertility is a medical condition defined by the inability to achieve pregnancy after one year of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse. However, many think a workup is reasonable after six months if a woman is 35 or older, has underlying risk factors or is stressed about not conceiving.
Causes of infertility include a variety of conditions affecting the reproductive systems of men and women and often relates to problems with both at the same time.
Treatment for infertility can include lifestyle adjustments, but is more likely to be successful with oral medications and insemination, or advanced medical treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Around 20 percent of couples receive a diagnosis of unexplained infertility. This means that testing and examination are unable to reveal a precise cause of infertility. Fertility testing is able to detect the major causes of infertility such as sperm count and ovulation disorders, but testing is limited in identifying more subtle issues such as poor egg quality. Additionally, hysterosalpingograms (HSGs), a type of X-ray exam used to diagnose infertility, can falsely indicate that a patient’s tubes are normal when they are actually damaged. Couples diagnosed with unexplained infertility are often still great candidates for fertility treatments despite the fact that the cause of their struggle to conceive cannot be pinpointed.
Related Information: Fertility Treatments Overview
Genetic Causes of Infertility in Men and Women
Certain genetic abnormalities may be carried by one or both partners and passed onto the developing embryo or fetus. These can result in implantation failure or miscarriage. Couples with a family history of genetic disorders may benefit from preimplantation genetic screening and diagnosis (PGS/PGD) during IVF, which can identify abnormal chromosomes in embryos.
Related information: Preimplantation Genetic Screening & Diagnosis
Treatment for infertility varies depending on diagnosis and may include conservative measures such as lifestyle modification and adopting healthy habits. In other cases, surgical procedures or medications to correct underlying conditions can restore a couple’s ability to naturally conceive. Advanced reproductive technologies (ART) such as IVF are recommended for more severe or persistent cases in which lower tech approaches are less likely to lead to a successful outcome.
Related Information: Fertility Treatments
Next Steps: Diagnosing and Treating Infertility at Positive Steps Fertility
Our fertility practice is fully equipped to diagnose and treat infertility in men and women. Of note, Dr. Parry pioneered the Parryscope technique and approach, allowing for accurate, gentle, fast, single-visit fertility testing where a woman gets results as the procedure is being performed. We can help you get answers quickly and help you decide the best way to efficiently approach building the family you want.