Many people these days go through infertility. It could be because of the lifestyle or environmental factors that many couples find it hard to conceive at one go. If you are one of those couples who are struggling to have a baby, then don’t worry as you aren’t alone. In the USA alone, around 10-15% of couples are infertile. Infertility means when a couple isn’t able to get pregnant despite having unprotected sex frequently. Infertility can arise because of either partner or a combination of multiple factors that prevent a pregnancy from occurring.
It is the inability to reproduce or further the lineage through natural means. Some types of infertility can be treated via medical intervention. It has been seen that male infertility is the cause for 20-30% cases of infertility in couples, and 20-35% are due to female infertility. The most common cause of female fertility issues is due to ovulation problems while deficiencies in semen quality usually cause male infertility.
Cause of Infertility in Males
Because men or women can both cause infertility, we look at some common reasons why men can be infertile.
Certain hereditary disorders such as Klinefelter’s syndrome impacts the development of reproductive organs in males. In this condition, the male is born with 2 X chromosomes and only 1 Y chromosome, instead of one of each.
There are many tubes that carry sperm. These tubes could be blocked. The blockage could occur due to abnormal developments like cystic fibrosis or some inherited condition, trauma or infections. Because of this, the sperm’s transport will be affected.
The veins draining the testicles swell to cause varicocele and impact the quality of sperm. This issue can affect one or both the testes. However, most men with this condition display no symptoms.
Issues such as anejaculation (no ejaculation), premature ejaculation and retrograde ejaculation are disorders That can affect male reproductivity. In retrograde ejaculation, the semen enters the bladder instead of coming out from the penis head.
Non-malignant tumor or cancer can directly impact the male reproductive organs, by affecting glands that release hormones for reproduction such as the pituitary gland. Tumors can also cause infertility through other causes. Treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation can also affect male fertility.
Cancer medication, certain antifungal or ulcer drugs, testosterone replacement therapy, anabolic steroid use, and some medication can reduce sperm production and affect fertility.
Men can have issues with sexual intercourse such as erectile dysfunction, painful intercourse or anatomical abnormalities like a urethral opening below the penis. They can also suffer from the relationship or psychological problems that can interfere with normal sex. These can cause infertility.
Immune system cells are known as anti-sperm antibodies, mistakenly identify sperm as invaders that cause harm and try to eliminate them. Three kinds of anti-sperm antibodies do this – Immunoglobulin A, Immunoglobulin G, and Immunoglobulin M.
Abnormalities of hormonal systems that affect the thyroid, pituitary, hypothalamus, and adrenal glands can result in infertility along with problems with the testicles. Issues such as low testosterone can have other causes leading to infertility.
In the course of fetal development, one or both testicles may not descend into the sac from the abdomen. Such men are more likely to be infertile.
Some types of surgeries may prevent one from having sperm in their ejaculation. Inguinal hernia repair, vasectomy, testicular or scrotal surgery, prostate surgery, surgery for rectal or testicular cancer, etc. can cause problems. In most cases, further surgeries can be performed to remove the blockage or just retrieve sperm from testicles and epididymis.
Inflammation of testicles or gonorrhea can affect sperm health or production of sperm. It can also lead to scarring that blocks the movement of sperm.
Celiac disease is caused by sensitivity to gluten and can lead to infertility in men. Fertility may come back if they follow a gluten-free diet.
Cause of Infertility in Females
Most common causes of fertility in women are as follows:
These are growths in the uterine cavity. Multiple or large polyps can affect fertility by interfering with the embryo’s ability to implant and thus these must be removed. There is still some controversy on small or single polyps and their impact.
One of the most common causes of infertility in women is age. Each woman has a certain number of eggs in her body. As women become older, the number of eggs decreases. There are higher chances of chromosomal abnormalities and the quality of eggs also decreases. Studies have indicated that 70% of miscarriages are because of chromosomal abnormalities.
Noncancerous growths in the uterus are known as fibroids. They are quite common, and around 40% of women are seen to have this. Just having this condition may not necessarily lead to infertility. But fibroids which can distort the uterine cavity are a problem. They can affect the embryo’s impact to implant in the uterus, and they must be removed through surgery.
One-fourth of infertility cases are because of ovulation issues. Women suffering from this may not ovulate at all or may ovulate infrequently. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a common disorder that affects ovulation. Hypothalamic amenorrhea and ovarian insufficiency are other causes of ovulation problems.
Issue sin fallopian tubes that stop the sperms from fertilizing the eggs is a tubal factor fertility issue.
- The tissue of the uterine lining growing outside the uterus is known as endometriosis. Around 10% of women in the reproductive age are affected by this problem.
- Unexplained – For one in five couples, an array of tests also cannot determine what is causing infertility. Unexplained infertility means that the tests that have been performed have turned out normal results. Standard testing does not reveal the issues in the quality of eggs, embryo development, and sperm function.
Risk Factors for Male & Female Infertility
Multiple risk factors exist that can lead to infertility in men and women, such as:
- Alcohol use – During conception or pregnancy, women must stay off alcohol as there is no safe level of use. In men, heavy alcohol consumption affects sperm motility and count.
- Tobacco use – Marijuana and tobacco use may reduce the likelihood of getting pregnant for a couple. Smoking reduces the effectiveness of fertility treatments, and it has been seen that women who smoke have more miscarriages. Low sperm count and erectile dysfunction can also be caused by smoking.
- Age – Fertility in women is impacted by age. It declines from their mid-30s and then falls rapidly after the age of 37. Old women face infertility due to a lesser number of eggs, and their quality there can be other health issues that affect fertility. Men over the age of 40- are much less fertile than younger men.
- Underweight – women with eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia are more at risk for infertility. Also, those that eat restrictive or low-calorie diets may be affected.
- Overweight – Being overweight or having an inactive lifestyle can be a risk factor in women. The sperm count can be affected by overweight men.
- Exercise – Zero exercises can lead to obesity and create a higher chance of infertility. In women who are not overweight, intense and strenuous exercise can lead to ovulation issues.
Infertility Facts & Stats
According to eth CDC in the USA, around 12% of women in the age bracket of 15-44 have problems in conception and carrying the child full term. 7% of married women in this age group are infertile. The Nation Institute of Health says that a woman in her 30s is 50% less fertile than a woman in her 20s. The Office on Women’s Health states that over 20% of women in the USA are having their first baby after the age of 35, making age a growing factor in infertility.
9% of men in the USA have fertility issues, but their fertility declines at a slower pace than a woman’s, due to age.
Here are some facts in relation to infertility.
- Infertility occurs when a couple isn’t able to conceive within certain parameters.
- It happens because the man or woman or both are infertile.
- Age is a major factor contributing to infertility. Around 33% of couples who are above the age of 35 have fertility issues. The woman is highly likely to have a miscarriage and other health issues.
- Doctors run tests on both partners based on medical histories including ultrasound, sperm tests, ovulation tests, laparoscopy or hysterosalpingography.
- Infertility can be treatable in certain cases through surgery, medication, artificial insemination and assisted reproductive technology.
- There are several kinds of assisted reproductive technology or ART like gamete transfer, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, zygote transfer, and in-vitro fertilization. In most cases, the woman’s eggs are removed, mixed with sperm and then placed back into the woman’s body. It has a success rate of 3-31%.
- Couples can choose a gestational carrier for their babies as well, wherein an embryo is placed in her uterus, and she carries it to term. The embryo could have been made with the female partner’s egg or the gestational carrier’s egg mixed with the male partner’s sperm.
- Do not forget to check more about infertility related FAQs.