Infertility is a widespread condition; millions of people experience it every day. In fact, in the United States alone, 6 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 experience infertility. This number doubles if you consider women who can get pregnant but are unable to carry the child to term. Understanding what infertility is and how it is treated is essential for any person or couple struggling to get pregnant.
Infertile Couples Have Trouble Getting Pregnant
Infertility happens when a person or couple has difficulty getting pregnant after having regular, unprotected sex over an extended period, typically a year, without the use of birth control or other measures to prevent pregnancy. The time frame applies to women 15 to 35 years of age. Women 35 or older may naturally have a harder time conceiving and may be treated for infertility after a shorter time, usually around six months.
Infertility also refers to women who become pregnant but are unable to carry a healthy baby to term. An example of this would be a woman who experiences multiple miscarriages.
Below are some frequently asked questions that people have about infertility causes, symptoms and treatments.
What Causes Infertility?
Infertility may be caused by one or many underlying issues. No one solution will guarantee a pregnancy. It usually takes patience and thorough investigative work to find solutions to the problem.
To get pregnant, four major processes need to happen. When something disrupts one of these four processes, it can cause difficulty or prevent the conception of a child.
The steps are:
- A woman’s ovaries must produce eggs in her reproductive system for pregnancy. If the ovaries are not producing healthy eggs, it can lead to infertility.
- A woman’s eggs must be fertilized by sperm from a male for pregnancy to happen. If there are not enough sperm or sperm healthy enough to reach the eggs, infertility may happen.
- There is a passageway in a woman’s body that must provide a clear path for sperm to travel through to make its way to the eggs. Additionally, eggs must be able to travel to the uterus. If anything is blocking these pathways, it can cause infertility.
- After an egg is fertilized, it must attach itself to the wall of the uterus. If this does not properly happen, infertility may result.
What Role Does Ovulation Play in Infertility?
Regular periods usually reflect ovulation. Ovulation happens when a healthy egg is sent to the fallopian tubes from the uterus, which is necessary for pregnancy. However, sometimes ovulation doesn’t happen with menstruation, and this is referred to as a disruption of ovarian function. Ovarian functions that are disrupted are the most common causes of infertility.
A woman who does not ovulate during her menstrual cycle has a condition known as anovulation.
This may be caused by:
- Diminished ovarian reserve. This is a condition that happens when a woman has fewer eggs in her body than she should for her age.
- Functional hypothalamic amenorrhea. This condition happens when unhealthy weight loss or an obsession with exercise affects the ovulation processes. This condition may happen when a person is dealing with an eating disorder.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome. This is a condition that may be caused by too much testosterone in a woman’s body.
- Issues with the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. These parts of the brain produce hormones that are associated with ovulation. When these hormones are not at the levels they should be or are out of balance, it can cause many problems in the ovulation process.
Is Infertility Caused Solely by a Woman’s Body?
A common myth is that women are solely responsible for infertility. The truth is, men are often part of, or the sole cause of, infertility. Many people are surprised to learn that in 35 percent of cases or more, men are part of the cause of infertility. In just under 10 percent of cases, it is solely caused by the male.
How Can a Man Contribute to Infertility?
There are many common reasons a man may contribute to infertility.
These reasons include:
- Being overweight
- Excessive or frequent alcohol use
- Testosterone resulting from medicine
- Illegal testosterone use to build muscles
- Genetic factors
- Certain medications
- Exposing testicles to frequent heat
- Exposure to radiation
When Should a Couple Consult a Professional Health Care Provider?
A person or couple should consult a healthcare provider after a year of regular, unprotected intercourse without becoming pregnant. However, if a woman is over 35, it is harder to get pregnant, and therefore, she should seek help sooner. The time frame is generally six months after not becoming pregnant. Failure to become pregnant can cause depression, anxiety, and guilt.
Are There any Reasons Someone Should Consult a Doctor Earlier Than a Year?
If you are not over the age of 35 and are having trouble conceiving, there are circumstances where you may want to consult a professional before a year of being unable to conceive.
If you are a woman, you may consult a doctor earlier if you:
- Have experienced multiple miscarriages
- Experience severe pain during your period
- Experience frequent pain during sexual intercourse
- Have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the past
- Suspect you have an STI
- Have acne or excessive body hair
- Have been diagnosed with pelvic inflammatory disease
If you are a male, you may consult a doctor earlier than a year, if you:
- Have dealt with infertility with other sexual partners
- Have a sperm analysis that is abnormal
- Experienced testicular trauma in the past
- Have had or are being treated by chemotherapy
- Have been diagnosed with an STI in the past
- Suspect you have contracted an STI
How Is Someone Tested for Infertility?
Many tests can be done to identify the causes of infertility. Tests utilizing x-rays, ultrasound, and a process called hysterosalpingography all help doctors spot things in the reproductive system that may be causing trouble. Investigating a woman’s ovulation cycle is another tool to identify causes. Males will likely have their sperm tested to determine their health and quality of it.
Is Infertility Permanent?
Infertility does not mean the condition is permanent or that there is no solution. Many people become pregnant and go on to carry and deliver healthy children after being diagnosed as infertile.
Can Living a Less-Stressful Life Cure Infertility?
It is a common myth that most infertility can be cured simply by living a less stressful life. The truth is that the intense emotions that accompany infertility might be the cause of stress and not the other way around. While there may be some truth that stress can affect sperm and the production of healthy eggs, the idea that infertility can be treated by stress reduction alone is an unhelpful one. It often intensifies feelings of guilt and self-blame that people dealing with infertility may already be feeling.
How Does a Healthcare Professional Treat Infertility?
Because there are many different causes of infertility, every situation is unique. Some infertility treatments include surgery, medication, or a mixture of both.
A treatment called intrauterine insemination (IUI), more commonly known as artificial insemination, is often used. IUI is considered primarily for cases where the male may be the cause and cases where the cause is hard to pinpoint.
I’ve Heard About Assisted Reproductive Technology. What Is It?
Assisted reproductive technology (ART) refers to many different treatments. The ART most commonly known to the public is in-vitro fertilization. However, ART refers to any treatment of infertility where a woman’s eggs are dealt with outside her body. ART usually involves removing a healthy egg from a woman’s body in a laboratory setting and combining that egg with healthy sperm. Once the egg has been successfully fertilized, it can be returned to the woman’s body. In some cases, a couple elects to have another woman carry the baby, whereas the fertilized egg would be inserted into that woman’s uterus.
Can I Treat Infertility on My Own?
If you and a partner have gone over a year while engaging in a healthy sex life and have not become pregnant, it is likely time to consult a professional. It is estimated that 85 percent of couples become pregnant within the first year of trying, so the numbers suggest that after this amount of time, it may be time to investigate the situation further as medical intervention is likely needed.
Is It Possible to Be Infertile After I’ve Had a Child?
Many people do not realize that they can still deal with and need infertility treatment even after having a healthy child. This can happen because the factors that cause infertility can show up later in life, or there may be underlying causes that weren’t present during the first pregnancy.
Arizona Gynecology Consultants Treat Infertility
If you are experiencing infertility and want treatment from experts with the latest medical knowledge and technologies, contact Arizona Gynecology Consultants today. Our programs investigate your specific fertility needs and provide individualized treatments for anyone dealing with infertility. We’re here to help answer any additional questions you have about your personal symptoms nod possible treatments. Reach out to discuss your options. We’re here for you.
Founder and Medical Director of ARIZONA GYNECOLOGY CONSULTANTS
Dr. Kelly Roy is a specialist in surgical gynecology and advanced laparoscopy (and hysteroscopy). She is a long-time resident of Arizona and obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering at Arizona State University before finishing her Doctorate of Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1997.
Dr. Roy completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the then “Banner Good Samaritan Hospital” (now Banner University Medical Center), in Phoenix Arizona in 2001.
Well known for her teaching and surgical ability, she is on the faculty at the residency program at both Banner University Medical Center and Saint Joseph’s Hospital in central Phoenix and is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix Campus. Dr. Roy has taught advanced surgical techniques to medical students, residents, fellows and colleagues for over 15 years.
Dr. Roy is also a consultant to the medical device industry and has participated in the design and clinical testing of many instruments and surgical devices available on the world-wide market today.