Infertility affects 186 million people worldwide as per WHO, and the numbers are growing over the years. However, although it is a roadblock, it is a treatable condition and can be resolved with the correct medical approach. However, the lack of open discussion surrounding the subject negates its importance.
The condition of infertility isn’t just limited to heterosexual, cisgender individuals and couples. It equally affects transgender individuals, same-sex couples, and people with HIV and AIDs who can’t conceive their child due to medical restrictions.
The impending growth of myths and misconceptions surrounding infertility further prevents individuals from seeking the treatment they need. Indulging in awareness-raising interventions is thus important.
We hope this article serves that purpose and educates you about the ins and outs of infertility. Scroll down to read further.
What is Infertility?
One of the biggest misconceptions about infertility lies in its general definition known by the public.
The lack of conception after actively trying for a month doesn’t define infertility. Instead, the World Health Organization defines infertility as a disease prevalent in men and women where one can’t get pregnant after “12 months or more of having regular unprotected sexual intercourse.”
So, the timeline plays a crucial role in ascertaining the proper diagnosis for a couple. In the United States alone, around 10-15% of women between the ages of 15-44 years struggle with conceiving. Around 8-10% of couples struggle with infertility issues globally.
Infertility is further divided into two types:
This is defined as a medical condition where a couple cannot successfully conceive for the first timeafter having unprotected sexual intercourse for over 12 months. It also includes not being on any form of birth control.
This is a medical condition wherein the couple have had a successful pregnancy/pregnancies before but are unable to conceive further.
Infertility – Possible Causes
Pregnancy is a prolonged and complicated process that needs all the “markers” working together. This includes healthy reproductive anatomy, optimum physical and mental well-being, and a successful sexual life among the partners.
Anything amiss in the process can lead to infertility. And although the talk of infertility is often gender-biased, nit-picking women more than men, the reality is that around 45-50% of infertility issues stem from men.
Understanding the causes behind infertility enables better chances at treatment and a successful conception in the future.
Causes of Male Infertility
Generally, the causes of male infertility can result from issues with the reproductive anatomy, quality of semen, viability of the sperm, and so many other conditions. Typically, the risks can also involve side effects from medications or an undiagnosed medical condition.
For your convenience, we have sorted them out below.
|Improper sperm production and function||Several medical conditions can affect sperm production in men, including varicocele, genetic disorders, undescended testicles, or infectious STIs like HIV and gonorrhea.|
|External environment factors||Persistent exposure to toxic chemicals and fumes from pesticides, side effects of certain antibiotics and blood pressure medications, etc.|
|Issues with sperm motility and vitality||It can stem from sexual health issues like premature ejaculation, blockages in the testicles, or any internal damage to the reproductive anatomy.|
|Chronic diseases||Chronic diseases like cancer can lead to infertility due to the treatments. Chemotherapy and powerful radiation can reduce sperm production and quality.|
Causes of Female Infertility
Since the female reproductive system is more vital to pregnancy, the allied reasons contributing to infertility are more. From issues with the production of healthy eggs during ovulation to preconceived medical disorders including fibroids, cysts, and polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Let us look at some of the common causes behind female infertility:
|Ovulation disorders||Conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome, Hyperprolactinemia, etc., can impair natural ovulation. Even hypothyroidism is a contributing factor.|
|Uterine abnormalities||Uterine fibroids, polyps, and tumors in the uterus or cervix can pose issues with infertility by blocking the fallopian tubes. This prevents successful fertilization after the egg is released.|
|Endometriosis||A condition where the uterus’ endometrial tissues grow outside of the uterus, leading to infertility.|
|Blockage in the fallopian tube||Salpingitis is a condition that results in inflammation of the fallopian tubes. This type of pelvic inflammatory disease (PIV) results in infertility due to multiple blockages and the structure of the fallopian tubes.|
|Early menopause||Although quite rare, several women before the age of 40 can experience early menopause or ovarian insufficiency. This is marked by a lack of viable follicles in the ovary, preventing ovulation.|
|Chronic diseases||Like in men, chronic diseases like cancers can lead to infertility as a side effect of its treatment.|
Besides these general causes, several other risk factors enhance the chances of infertility. They apply to both men and women and primarily involve lifestyle choices.
Some of the common risk factors include:
- Alcohol consumption
- Tobacco use or smoking
- Obesity or being overweight
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle
- Being underweight
- Eating disorders, etc.
Infertility Symptoms – What to look out for?
Just knowing about the causes won’t help with the treatment. Ideally, the quicker you realize the symptoms, the easier it becomes to either prevent them or treat them holistically.
Men and women with infertility issues can experience several medical symptoms that they brush aside. It can include lacking libido, unregulated menstrual cycles, unsatisfactory sexual life, and so much more.
Let us look at some of the common symptoms of infertility in men and women.
Signs of Infertility in Women
- Not able to conceive even after 6-12 months of unprotected sex
- Experience unregulated menstrual cycle
- Struggle with terrible cramps and pain during periods
- Have medical diagnosis for chronic conditions like endometriosis, PIV, etc.
- Can’t carry the fetus to full-term; experiencing miscarriages
- Are undergoing or have undergone chemo or radiation therapy for cancer
Signs of Infertility in Men
- Issues with ejaculation or erectile dysfunction
- Have a genetic predisposition for prostate or sexual health issues
- Undiagnosed swelling in the scrotum
- Have low sperm count or sperm motility
The above-mentioned are some of the most known causes of infertility. However, you need to understand that everyone’s body and body functions are different. So, the cause of infertility in you is subjective, and only a proper physical and emotional evaluation can ascertain the cause.
When is the Right Time to See a Doctor?
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, ideally, the first doctor one consults is a gynecologist. However, treating infertility is dependent on several medical departments, including:
- Obstetrics and Gynecology
So, if you are consulting an OB-GYN as a primary resort, they will refer you to a urologist for further evaluation.
Ideally, an individual or a couple should seek medical interventions if they cannot conceive after a year of unprotected sex. It is only then a couple is diagnosed with infertility issues. Many tests and imaging help in a better assessment.
There are separate evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment options for men and women, depending on the cause.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the common diagnosis and treatment approach for infertility in men and women.
|Semen analysis||Ovulation testing|
|Testicular biopsy||Hormonal testing|
|Genetic testing||Ovarian reserve testing|
|Transrectal or Scrotal ultrasound||Pelvic ultrasound (saline infusion sonogram)|
|Vasography||Hysteroscopy or laparoscopy (if needed)|
|Certain medications to improve testicular function and sperm vitality||Ovulation stimulation with fertility drugs|
|Improvement to lifestyle factors||Intrauterine Insemination (IUI)|
|Surgeries for removing blockages||Surgical interventions to remove polyps, fibroids, adhesions, etc.|
|Sperm retrieval||Treating hormonal imbalances and other chronic diseases like hypothyroidism and PCOS that contribute to infertility|
Besides these treatments, fertility specialists suggest Assistive Reproductive Technology (ART) as a viable treatment option for infertility. The procedures are expensive and quite long, so making an informed decision is crucial.
Infertility diagnosis isn’t the end of the world. Yes, accepting this roadblock can be difficult, and it can take time, but you can overcome this issue with the right medical help. There are situations where infertile couples have conceived successfully even after their diagnosis.
Getting the right treatment and at the right time can make all the difference in the world. In case the issues are irreparable, there are other alternatives too. Seek help for your physical and your emotional well-being because the road to pregnancy and eventual parenthood is never an easy one.