What is Infertility?
Sometimes the term ‘trying to conceive’ turns into ‘we have been trying for too long to conceive — and it isn’t happening’. When it does, your doctor may investigate a diagnosis of infertility.
Infertility is considered when a couple has not been able to conceive a baby after at least 12 months of trying. It is also used when a woman is unable to carry a pregnancy to full term. Infertility impacts both men and women, and often brings with it an unnecessary stigma and a wave of emotions. There are many different causes, and fortunately, multiple treatments that can bring you closer to achieving your dream family.
Infertility in Women
If you are struggling with infertility, you aren’t alone — it affects approximately 12% of women worldwide. Sometimes the only clue is not being able to conceive. Other times, there are signs and symptoms that can help with a diagnosis, such as multiple miscarriages, irregular or no periods (anovulation), painful or very heavy periods, or pain during intercourse.
Infertility in Men
It’s a common misconception that infertility is a woman’s issue — in fact, male infertility is statistically equal to fertility issues in women (referred to as ‘male factor infertility’). Besides the failure to conceive, some of the signs and symptoms of male infertility include changes in libido, pain, swelling or changes in the testicles and ejaculation issues.
Common Causes of Infertility
There isn’t just one reason for infertility. Often times it can be the result of an underlying issue or condition. Here are some of the most common causes we see in our practice:
Age of the Intended Parent(s)
- After the age of 35 in women and men, fertility can begin to decline. However, this number isn’t set in stone — health and lifestyle factors play a big role in determining your reproductive age.
- This is when a woman doesn’t ovulate during the menstrual cycle. It’s one of the leading causes of infertility in women, and it can be due to many underlying causes.
- PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. PCOS is caused by an imbalance in a woman’s hormones. It can lead to irregular periods and make it difficult to get — and stay — pregnant.
- Endometriosis is when the uterus lining (endometrium), grows in the fallopian tubes, ovaries or other areas. When the lining breaks down it can cause problems like cysts, pain, heavy bleeding and lead to infertility.
Blocked Fallopian Tubes
Blockage can happen when scar tissue from previous infection or damage can grow in the fallopian tubes, which makes it difficult for the egg to travel from the ovaries to the woman’s uterus. There are usually no symptoms, however some women experience pelvic pain.
Fibroids are non-cancerous tissue growth inside of a woman’s uterus. They may or may not cause problems, depending on their size and location. Most women do not have any symptoms, while others can experience heavy bleeding or pain.
- Hormonal imbalances and disorders in both men and women are common contributors to infertility or subfertility. Some of the most common hormonal imbalances in women are PCOS and thyroid conditions.
- Some people are genetically predisposed (have a family history) to certain disorders that could impact the ability to conceive or add complicating factors during pregnancy.
Poor Egg Quality
- Unhealthy or low-quality eggs often impact natural conception and the success of fertility treatments. Starting with a healthy and strong egg can often change the game for those who struggle with getting pregnant. For this, preconception care is in the months leading up to fertility treatment is key.
Repetitive Pregnancy Loss
- Recurrent miscarriage can sometimes result in damage to the uterus, leading to scar tissue that can make it difficult for conception and/or fetus growth.
Premature Ovarian Failure
- This happens when the ovaries stop producing eggs and functioning before a woman reaches the age of 40. This is often due to a genetic or hormonal issue.
Male Factor Infertility
This is when a male experiences low sperm count or low motility (sperm movement). There can be a number of factors that influence sperm count and speed, including underlying health issues, diet and lifestyle.
Other Health Issues (Diabetes, Cancer, Etc)
- Sometimes infertility is due to other issues and treatments that originate outside of the reproductive system. For example, chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer, or insulin treatment for diabetes have been known to play a role in infertility for both men and women.