Infertility: causes, diagnosis, risks, and treatments
Most couples achieve pregnancy within the first six months of trying. Overall, after 12 months of frequent unprotected intercourse, about 90 percent of couples will become pregnant. The majority of couples will eventually conceive, with or without treatment.
The main sign of infertility is the inability for a couple to get pregnant. There may be no other obvious symptoms.
Infertility may be due to a single cause in either you or your partner, or a combination of factors that may prevent a pregnancy from occurring or continuing. Fortunately, there are many safe and effective therapies for overcoming infertility.
When to see a doctor?
In general, you may consider seeing a doctor about infertility if you and your partner have been trying regularly to conceive for at least one year.
Infertility problems can be present from birth (congenital) or something can go wrong along the way that results in infertility.
The reasons for infertility can involve one or both partners. In general:
- In about one-third of cases, the cause of infertility involves only the male.
- In about one-third of cases, the cause of infertility involves only the female.
- In the remaining cases, the cause of infertility involves both the male and female, or no cause can be identified.
The main causes of male infertility
Abnormal sperm production or function due to various problems, such as undescended testicles, genetic defects, diabetes, prior infections such as mumps, trauma or prior surgeries on the testicles or inguinal region. Enlarged veins in the testes can increase blood flow and heat, affecting the number and shape of sperm.
Problems with the delivery of sperm due to sexual problems, such as premature ejaculation, semen entering the bladder instead of emerging through the penis during orgasm (retrograde ejaculation), certain genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, structural problems, such as blockage of the part of the testicle that contains sperm (epididymis), or damage or injury to the reproductive organs. Men who have previously undergone a vasectomy and desire a return of fertility will also need to either have the vasectomy reversed (see “vasectomy reversal” below) or have sperm retrieved through a surgical procedure for use in assisted reproductive techniques.
Overexposure to certain chemicals and toxins, such as pesticides, radiation, tobacco smoke, alcohol, marijuana, and steroids (including testosterone). In addition, frequent exposure to heat, such as in saunas or hot tubs, can elevate the testicular temperature, impairing sperm production.
Damage related to cancer and it’s treatment. Treatment for cancer and removal of one testicle due to cancer also may affect male fertility.
Causes of female infertility
Ovulation disorders, due to hormonal disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that might relate to your ovaries producing too much of the male hormone testosterone, and hyperprolactinemia, when you have too much prolactin — the hormone that stimulates breast milk production.
Primary ovarian insufficiency, also called early menopause, when the ovaries stop working and menstruation ends before age 40.
Uterine or cervical abnormalities, including problems with the opening of the cervix or cervical mucus, or abnormalities in the shape or cavity of the uterus. Benign tumors in the wall of the uterus that are common in women (uterine fibroids) may rarely cause infertility by blocking the fallopian tubes. More often, fibroids may distort the uterine cavity interfering with implantation of the fertilized egg.
Fallopian tube damage or blockage, which usually results from inflammation of the fallopian tube (salpingitis). This can result from pelvic inflammatory disease, usually caused by sexually transmitted infection, endometriosis or adhesions.
Endometriosis, which occurs when endometrial tissue implants and grows outside of the uterus — often affecting the function of the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes.
Pelvic adhesions, bands of scar tissue that bind organs after pelvic infection, appendicitis, or abdominal or pelvic surgery.