What causes infertility?
What Causes Infertility?
There’s always a time when we decide to make some pretty major changes in our lives. Starting a family is one of them. It’s not an easy decision and for many, it takes years of planning. Now that you’re financially stable and with a supportive partner you could parent with, you’ve finally thought about having children. Heck, you might have even decided on their names.
But not everything goes according to the perfectly devised plan you’ve made in your head. Sometimes getting pregnant isn’t easy and after many months of trying it might also seem impossible.
But that’s okay because you’re not alone. In fact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 10 percent of women in the United States alone has difficulty in getting pregnant or maintaining a pregnancy.
That’s some pretty sobering data but that also means science is always finding new ways to help couples in this matter. Infertility can be a distressing diagnosis but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. If you’re vigilant and compliant to treatment or alternatives, there’s are ways to improve the chances of conception.
Thanks to the growing awareness we now know that both men and women have similar chances of being infertile. Gone are the days when women were solely blamed for not becoming pregnant. There can be numerous causes of infertility in both genders; listed in this blog post are some of the most important ones.
The Many Causes of Female Infertility
The female body has quite the anatomy and to understand how pregnancy works, it’s important to recognize some of the main structures in our reproductive system – the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus and the cervix. Problems in any of these four structures can give rise to fertility issues. The good news is, many of them are curable.
Damage to the fallopian tubes is perhaps the most frequent cause of infertility in women. This is the part that carries your eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. Any pathological process that can lead to the inflammation and scarring of these tubes can sometimes cause irreversible damage. Untreated pelvic infections and endometriosis are prime culprits. However if only one tube is affected the other can compensate for it and pregnancy can still take place.
We all know that the uterus is our baby box and that means problems with it can hamper the implantation of the egg itself. Uterine fibroids are an extremely common condition in child-bearing women that can come in the way of a successful pregnancy. Similarly uterine polyps can cause infertility as well. Fortunately surgical removal of polyps and fibroids is highly effective.
Some women might also have problems in the cervix and its anatomy. This is the part that connects the vagina with the uterus. Damage to the cervix can prevent sperms from getting into the uterus.
Another common cause of fertility that has little to do with the anatomy of the reproductive system is an aberrant level of female sex hormones. If your body does not produce the hormones in their normal concentrations, you may not be ovulating (i.e. releasing an egg from the ovaries). Hormonal problems are linked to a strong family history as well.
PCOS can also make pregnancy difficult but with the right medical treatment, even patients with overt PCOS can successfully get pregnant.
Then there is the last 20% of cases where the cause of infertility is simply not obvious. These ‘idiopathic’ (of no known medical cause) cases are fairly common and still under medical scrutiny.
What Causes Male Infertility?
The incidence of male infertility seems to be on the rise probably because of the overexposure to harmful environmental factors such as smoking, alcohol, chemicals and radiation. Any problem with the sperm production, number, quality or delivery can essentially render a man infertile.
A low sperm count is perhaps one of the leading causes of infertility in men followed by a poor quality of the sperm. This could be due to a number of factors including some well-known ones like diabetes, STDs, mumps infections and some other poorly explained ‘idiopathic’ factors.
Sometimes the quality and number of the sperm might be adequate but the delivery of the sperm from the testis could have a problem. Testicular torsion, damage and atrophy of the testis can cause infertility. The genetic disease cystic fibrosis can also hamper the delivery of sperms through the thin ducts of the male reproductive system causing problems with fertility.
Does Environment and Lifestyle Play a Role in Infertility?
It most certainly does! Overexposure to harmful environmental factors is not just a myth. Tobacco and alcohol can actually make it difficult for you to become pregnant as can exposure to chemicals, drugs and radiation.
In fact the diet you eat can impact your fertility status as well. An unbalanced diet low in fresh fruits and vegetables can produce problems in getting or staying pregnant.
Similarly, too much stress can also have a detrimental effect on getting pregnant. Stress has a way of tampering with your hormones and your overall functioning of the body making pregnancy difficult.
What are the Key Signs of Infertility?
Many couples never realize they have a problem with fertility till they try for a baby. After many attempts, couples seek medical help and find out an underlying fertility issue.
However in many cases the signs of infertility can come well before hand. Recognizing these signs and symptoms can actually help you act fast and get treatment early if possible.
In women, highly irregular menstrual cycles with severe period pain can be a telling sign. Missing your period once in a while is normal but frequently missing it should raise a question mark in your head. Another sign of an underlying infertility issue could be painful sex.
In men the signs of infertility are much less obvious. Most men will never know they have a problem but the few who do might have a history of a viral infection or an STD. They may have had a testicular swelling or torsion when they were a child. Some men that have drastic changes in libido or have problems in ejaculation could also be infertile.
How is Infertility Treated?
Although most causes of infertility need medical attention, let’s not ignore the factors that we can control. Improving our diet and lifestyle can benefit us greatly especially if staying pregnant is the particular issue. If you’re set on starting a family it’s a good idea to stop smoking and drinking, and make healthy changes to your diet. You might also benefit from stress management therapy if you suffer from anxiety.
It’s important to follow up with your doctor if you’re having trouble with getting pregnant despite several months of trying. Certain medication to improve the sperm count and quality in men can be started. For women fertility pills are a good option to treat ovulation disorders.
Surgery for conditions such as a varicocele, uterine polyps and fibroids can also drastically improve your chances at getting pregnant. Recent advances in treatment for infertility have includes new techniques such as sperm retrieval and intrauterine insemination or IUI (sperms placed directly in the uterus around the time of ovulation).
IVF centers are now available in most parts of the world and have helped many couples become pregnant. This technique uses the sperm and egg retrieved from the couple and fertilized in a controlled environment of the lab. The fertilized egg is then placed in the uterus a few days later. This could be in the uterus of the mother herself or in a surrogate.
There’s Always Hope!
The diagnosis of infertility can be a huge blow to many couples and the news is often devastating. Many couples will give up hope right away but that shouldn’t be you. With proper treatment and help there’s always a way to start a family. From medical treatment and surgery to IVF options, there’s always hope.
If all else fails, adoption is a valid and entirely possible option that will not only help a child find a home to live in but also make your dream of becoming a parent come true.