For many women they dream of starting a family at some point in their lives. We plan for how many children we would like to have, and what age we would like to have them. For some women the process of having a child is instantaneous. But for some of us this process is not as simple as expected.
What is Infertility
Infertility is when a woman has difficulty getting pregnant or is unable to stay pregnant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 12% of women in the US find it difficult to get pregnant, or stay pregnant for the full term. It is a very common problem that couples face, but figuring out the cause can be a long and frustrating process.
What Are The Causes
There are many causes of infertility. One preconceived notion about infertility is that it is just a female problem, but men can also have fertility issues as well. Here are a few of the common causes of infertility.
Female Infertility Causes
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI)
- An untreated STD
- Blockage of the fallopian tubes
Male Infertility Causes
- Having a low or no sperm count
- An untreated STD
- Having chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer
- Having a condition called Varicoceles, which is an enlargement of the veins in the scrotum
- Having sperm that’s not shaped normally
When to See a Doctor
The general rule is to try to conceive for about a year for women under 35. For women over 35 try conceiving for at least 6 months before seeing a doctor.
There are a few instances where a couple should see a doctor sooner. These include the following:
- Having irregular or missed periods
- Having endometriosis
- Having a prior miscarriage
- Having Pelvic inflammatory disease
- For men having past trauma to the testicles
How a Doctor Tests for Infertility
To check for infertility in women a doctor will usually start by finding out if a woman is ovulating ever month. A woman can keep track of this at home by:
- Paying attention to your cervical mucus for a few months
- Tracking your morning body temperature for a few months
- Using a store bought ovulation test
A doctor can also do a blood test to check ovulation. They can also do an ultrasound to see if the uterus and ovaries look normal.
If the first tests are normal a test called a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) can be done to see if there are any blockages in the fallopian tubes, which would prevent pregnancy. With this test a doctor will put dye into the uterus. With an x-ray the doctor will be able to see if the dye flows throughout the whole uterus and fallopian tubes without any blockages.
A Laparoscopy can also be done which is a surgery that looks inside the body to see if there are any issues with the ovaries, fallopian tubes or uterus. This is one way that doctors are able to find out if a woman has endometriosis as well.
To check for infertility in men a doctor will test their semen in order to find out the sperm count, shape and movement. A blood test can also check for hormonal imbalances that can lead to infertility.
There are many treatments for infertility. The best type for a couple depends on the causes of infertility. A few treatment options are:
- Lifestyle changes like reducing alcohol consumption, losing weight and to stop smoking can help with fertility for both women and men.
- There are different types of medications that a doctor can use to help a woman that has issues with ovulating regularly. One thing about fertility drugs is that it increases a woman’s risk of having twins or more.
- Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) – also called artificial insemination is a treatment that injects the women, directly into her uterus, with her partner’s sperm. Also medication can be given to the woman to stimulate ovulation.
- In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) – this is when an egg and sperm are fertilized outside of the body in a lab. When the embryo forms then the embryo is put into the uterus to continue the process.
- In men hormone medications can be recommended when there is an imbalance in certain hormones.
- Another treatment for men is surgery to fix things like Varicoceles.
- If a man is having issues with Erectile Dysfunction there are medications and therapies that can be used to improve that.
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Office on Women’s Health. Infertility. Accessed December 11 2019 (hyperlink is https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/infertility)
Planned Parenthood. Infertility. Accessed December 11 2019 (hyperlink is https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/pregnancy/infertility)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed December 11 2019 (hyperlink is https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/index.htm)
Mayo Clinic. Abnormal sperm morphology: What does it mean?. Accessed December 11 2019 (hyperlink is https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/male-infertility/expert-answers/sperm-morphology/faq-20057760)