In your journey of struggling to have a baby, you must know you are not alone. Infertility among couples is very common today. However, to be labelled as infertile, one has to fulfil the criteria of not getting pregnant even though they have unprotected sex frequently for at least 1 year.
Infertility symptoms can be experienced by one of the partners or both, or it can be due to a combination of things that prevent conception or pregnancy. Fortunately, with the advancement in science and medicine today, there are a couple of effective and safe therapies that can improve one’s chance of conception and of having a successful pregnancy. There are several infertility treatments for females, the most common one being IVF.
Symptoms of Infertility
The most obvious and main infertility symptom is not being able to get pregnant. Infertile women may sometimes present symptoms like absent or irregular menstrual periods. Some infertile men may indicate hormonal problems like changes in their sexual function or hair growth. Most couples are eventually able to conceive either with treatment or without it.
Causes of Infertility
The steps needed to happen during ovulation and fertilisation need to correctly take place for a woman to get pregnant. However, there are times that the causes of infertility may be present since birth, and some of the causes develop later in adulthood. There are some rare cases where no cause of infertility can be found, yet the couple cannot get pregnant.
Causes of Infertility in Men
• Abnormal sperm function or production: An abnormal sperm function or production may occur in men due to testicles that haven’t descended, health issues like diabetes, genetic defects or infections like gonorrhoea, HIV, mumps or chlamydia. Sometimes, the quality of sperm is also affected due to enlargement of the testicular veins, also known as varicocele.
• Problems with sperm delivery: There may also exist a problem in sperm delivery in men due to some sexual problems like premature ejaculation, structural problems like blockage in testicles, genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis or an injury or damage to reproductive organs.
• Overexposure to certain factors in the environment: Male fertility is also affected by exposure to some chemicals like pesticides or radiation. Smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol, indulging in marijuana and using anabolic steroids or medicines taken for treating bacterial infections, a constant rise in blood pressure and suffering from depression also contribute to male infertility. Men who expose their bodies to heat frequently, like using saunas and hot tubs regularly, can also raise the body temperature, which affects the production of sperm.
• Damage related to cancer and treatment of cancer: Damage can be caused to the male body due to radiation or due to chemotherapy. The treatments used today to cure cancer may often impair the production of sperm severely.
Causes of Infertility in Women
• Ovulation disorders: Ovulation disorders can affect how the eggs are released from the ovaries. These disorders can also incorporate hormonal disorders like PCOS, which is a syndrome that entails polycystic ovaries. A condition called hyperprolactinemia is when there is an overabundance of the hormone prolactin. This hormone stimulates the production of breast milk, which can very quickly interfere with the ovulation process. The thyroid hormone when present in large quantities or very little quantities affects the female menstrual cycle and can cause infertility. Working out too much, suffering from eating disorders or tumours can also affect female fertility.
• Uterine or cervical abnormalities: These include abnormalities in the polyps present in the uterus, cervix, or abnormalities in how the uterus is shaped. Benign tumours, which are non-cancerous like uterine fibroids, can also cause infertility in women by stopping the fertilised egg from being implanted in the uterus or by blocking out the fallopian tubes.
• Damage or blockage in the fallopian tube: These are often caused due to inflammation of the salpingitis, which is the fallopian tube. This can also be a result of inflammatory disease in the pelvis, which is often caused by infections that are sexually transmitted or due to adhesions or endometriosis.
• Endometriosis: Endometriosis occurs when endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus and may affect the ovaries, uterus and parts of the fallopian tubes.
• Primary ovarian insufficiency (early menopause): Early menopause occurs before the age of 40. The cause for ovaries to stop working is generally unknown. However, there are certain factors that are often associated with it. The factors include genetic conditions like Turner syndrome, immune system diseases, and chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
• Pelvic adhesions: Pelvic adhesions are mainly scar tissue bands that can bind organs that can develop after a pelvic infection, endometriosis, appendicitis, or pelvic or abdominal surgery.
• Cancer and its treatment: Certain cancers and especially reproductive cancers, often damage female fertility. Both chemotherapy and radiation may affect female fertility.
Most of the risk factors that can cause infertility symptoms are the same for both men and women. These include:
1. Age: The fertility in women begins to decline gradually from their mid-30s and drops rapidly from the age of 37. After 37, infertility is primarily due to the low number of eggs and their poor quality. It may also be because of health issues that can affect fertility. Men over the age of 40 years may not be as fertile as younger men.
2. Use of Tobacco: The likelihood of getting pregnant may be reduced if either of the partners smokes tobacco or marijuana. Smoking can also impair the effectiveness of any fertility treatment that may be used in the future.
3. Use of Alcohol: There is no such thing as a safe level for alcohol consumption by women during pregnancy and during conception. Frequent use of alcohol can also contribute to infertility in both men and women.
4. Being overweight: A lifestyle that is not very active and has a high BMI can affect fertility. Overweight men may have a lower sperm count.
5. Being underweight: If a woman is suffering from an eating disorder like bulimia or anorexia, she may suffer from fertility problems. A low-calorie diet may also impair fertility in women and men.
Despite so many causes of infertility, the good news is there are reliable infertility treatments for women. If you and your partner are showing infertility symptoms for a year, it may be time to reach out to an infertility clinic and find out what infertility treatment for females and males they can offer.
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