What Is Infertility?
Infertility is defined as being unable to conceive, or get pregnant, after one full year of unprotected sex (6 months for women younger older than 35 years old). One-third of infertility issues are the result of problems with the woman, one-third with the man and the final third are from either a mixture of causes or unknown causes. Possible causes of infertility in women include:
- Age — Women are born will all the eggs they will ever have. Egg quality and number decline throughout life, but most dramatically starting in their mid-30’s.
- Fallopian tube problems — Blockages of the fallopian tubes can prevent eggs from reaching the uterus. It can be caused by conditions such as pelvic infection, often due to chlamydia or gonorrhea.
- Trouble ovulating — Monthly ovulation (release of a mature egg from the ovary) results in a normal period 2 weeks later. Many women with infertility ovulate infrequently and therefore have rare periods. It is the most common cause of infertility, and often easy to treat. Polycystic ovarian disease is often the cause of ovulation problems, though thyroid disorders and even premature menopause can also be responsible.
- Uterine fibroids — Fibroids are tissue and muscle growths on the uterine. Fibroids that extend into the inside of the uterus (submucous fibroids) can cause heavy periods and infertility.
While infertility does not have symptoms in a traditional sense, there are red flags that can indicate potential issues. A reproductive endocrinologist (fertility specialist) should be consulted after 12 months of unprotected sex in women younger than 35 years, and 6 months in women older than 35.
A reproductive endocrinologist should be sought earlier than the 12-month mark in the following scenarios:
- History of sexually transmitted diseases
- Irregular or absent menstrual periods
- Intense pain during menstrual periods
- Multiple miscarriages
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
Treatments for infertility vary based on the cause, length of time the couple has been trying to conceive and couple’s age and health. Potential treatments for infertility include:
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF) — IUI involves sperm placement in the uterus, while IVF involves the implantation of a healthy, fertilized embryo.
- Lifestyle changes — Maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and eliminating use of alcohol or illegal drugs may aid conception.
- Medication — Often, a doctor will prescribe medication intended to induce ovulation. It can be used in conjunction with IUI and IVF.
- Surgery — For women, surgery can be used to repair fallopian tubes or treat endometriosis. For men, surgery can treat a common problem involving enlargement of a vein in the scrotum.