Infertility is when a couple cannot get pregnant (conceive) despite having regular unprotected sex.
Around 1 in 7 couples may have difficulty conceiving.
More than 8 out of 10 couples, where the woman is under 40, will conceive naturally within a year if they have regular unprotected sex (every 2 or 3 days).
For couples who have been trying to conceive for more than 3 years without success, the likelihood of getting pregnant naturally within the next year is 1 in 4, or less.
There are 2 types of infertility:
• Primary infertility – where someone who’s never conceived a child in the past has difficulty conceiving
• Secondary infertility – where someone has had 1 or more pregnancies in the past, but is having difficulty conceiving again
Factors affecting infertility
Fertility Tests for men
Male fertility relies on the testicles making enough healthy sperm. The sperm needs to be released from the penis into the vagina, where it has to travel to the waiting egg. Tests for male infertility try to find out whether there are treatable problems with any of these steps.
You may have a physical exam that includes a check of your genitals. Specific infertility tests may include:
• Semen analysis. Your health care team may ask for one or more samples of your semen. Often, you collect semen by masturbating or by stopping sex to ejaculate into a clean container. Then a lab checks your semen sample. In some cases, urine may be tested to find out if it contains sperm.
• Hormone testing. You may get a blood test to check your level of testosterone and other male hormones.
• Genetic testing. This may be done to find out whether a genetic defect is the cause of infertility.
• Testicular biopsy. This procedure removes a small amount of testicle tissue so a lab can check it under a microscope. It’s not common to need a biopsy during infertility testing. Rarely, it may be done to find out whether there is a blockage in the reproductive tract that keeps sperm from leaving the body in semen. Most of the time, this diagnosis can be made based on your history, physical exam and lab tests. Other times, a biopsy may be done to find conditions that contribute to infertility. Or it may be used to collect sperm for assisted reproductive techniques, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).
• Imaging. In some cases, your health care team may recommend tests that make pictures of the inside of your body. For example, ultrasound can check for problems in the scrotum, in the glands that make fluids that become semen or in the tube that carries sperm out of the testicles. A brain MRI can check for tumors of the pituitary gland that are not cancer. These tumors can cause the gland to make too much of the hormone prolactin, which could lead the body to make less sperm or none.
• Other testing. In rare cases, other tests may be done to check the quality of your sperm. For example, a semen sample may need to be checked for problems with DNA that might damage sperm.
Fertility Tests for women
Fertility for women relies on the ovaries releasing healthy eggs. The reproductive tract must let an egg pass into the fallopian tubes and join with sperm. Then the fertilized egg must travel to the uterus and attach to the lining. Tests for female infertility try to find problems with any of those steps.
You may have a physical exam, including a regular pelvic exam. Infertility tests may include:
• Ovulation testing. A blood test measures hormone levels to find out whether you’re ovulating.
• Thyroid function test. This blood test can be done if your health care team thinks your infertility might be related to a problem with the thyroid gland. If the gland makes too much or little thyroid hormone, that could play a role in fertility trouble.
• Hysterosalpingography. Hysterosalpingography (his-tur-o-sal-ping-GOG-ruh-fee) checks on the condition of the uterus and fallopian tubes. It also looks for blockages in the fallopian tubes or other problems. Special dye is injected into the uterus, and an X-ray is taken.
• Ovarian reserve testing. This helps your care team find out how many eggs you have for ovulation. The method often begins with hormone testing early in the menstrual cycle.
• Other hormone tests. These check the levels of hormones that control ovulation. They also check pituitary hormones that control processes involved in having a baby.
• Imaging tests. Pelvic ultrasound looks for diseases of the uterus or ovaries. Sometimes a test called a saline infusion sonogram is used to see details inside the uterus that can’t be seen on a regular ultrasound. Another name for the saline infusion test is a sonohysterogram (son-o-his-ter-OH-gram).
Rarely, testing may include:
• Hysteroscopy. Depending on your symptoms, your health care team may use a hysteroscopy (his-ter-os-ko-pee) to look for a disease of the uterus. During the procedure, a thin, lighted device is placed through the cervix into the uterus to check for any irregular signs. It also can help guide minor surgery.
• Laparoscopy. Laparoscopy (lap-u-ros-kuh-pee) involves a small cut beneath the navel. Then a thin viewing device is placed through the cut to check the fallopian tubes, ovaries and uterus. The procedure may find endometriosis, scarring, blockages or other issues with the fallopian tubes. It also might find treatable problems with the ovaries and uterus. Laparoscopy is a type of surgery that can treat certain conditions as well. For example, it can be used to remove growths called fibroids or endometriosis tissue.
Not everyone needs to have all, or even many, of these tests before the cause of infertility is found. You and your health care team decide which tests you will have and when.
HSG test for female infertility
Infertility treatment depends on:
• The cause of the infertility.
• How long you’ve been infertile.
• Your age and your partner’s age, if you have a partner.
• Personal preferences.
Some causes of infertility can’t be corrected.
If pregnancy doesn’t happen after a year of unprotected sex, couples often can still become pregnant through infertility treatments called assisted reproductive technology. But treatment can involve big financial, physical, emotional and time commitments.
Treatment for women
Some women need only one or two treatments to improve fertility. Others may need a few types of therapies to become pregnant.
• Fertility medicines. These are the main treatments for infertility that’s due to ovulation trouble. They can help the ovaries release an egg if ovulation is irregular or stops happening. Talk with your health care team about your options. Ask about the benefits and risks of each type of fertility medicine.
• Intrauterine insemination (IUI). With IUI, healthy sperm are placed directly in the uterus around the time that the ovary releases one or more eggs to be fertilized. Depending on the reasons for infertility, IUI can be timed with your menstrual cycle or with the use of fertility medicines. Your partner or a donor provides the sperm.
• Surgery to restore fertility. Some conditions of the uterus can be treated with hysteroscopy. These include polyps, scar tissue and some fibroids. Laparoscopic surgery with small cuts or traditional surgery with a large cut in the stomach area may be needed to treat conditions such as endometriosis, pelvic adhesions and larger fibroids.
Treatment for men
Men’s treatment for general sexual problems or a lack of healthy sperm may include:
• Lifestyle changes. Your health care team may recommend that you take the following steps. Have sex more often and closer to the time of ovulation. Get regular exercise. Drink less alcohol or give up harmful substances such as tobacco. Stop taking medicines that can affect fertility, but only if your health care team tells you to.
• Medicines. Your team may prescribe medicines to improve sperm count and boost the chances of a successful pregnancy. These prescription drugs may help the testicles function better too.
• Surgery. Sometimes, surgery may be able to reverse a sperm blockage and restore fertility. In other cases, repairing a large varicocele may improve the overall chances for pregnancy.
• Sperm retrieval procedures. These techniques can collect sperm if you can’t ejaculate, or if no sperm is in your semen. Sperm retrieval procedures also may be used when assisted reproductive techniques are planned and sperm counts are low or irregular.
Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)
In vitro fertilization (IVF):
is the most common ART technique. Some of the key steps in a cycle of IVF include:
• Fertility medicines are used to help the ovaries make eggs.
• Mature eggs are removed from the ovaries.
• The eggs are fertilized with sperm in a dish in a lab.
• The fertilized eggs, also called embryos, are placed in the uterus. Embryos also can be frozen for future use.
In vitro fertilization
(A) During in vitro fertilization, eggs are removed from sacs called follicles within an ovary.
(B) An egg is fertilized by injecting a single sperm into the egg or mixing the egg with sperm in a petri dish.
(C) The fertilized egg, called an embryo, is transferred into the uterus.
In Intra Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), a single healthy sperm is injected directly into each mature egg. ICSI often is used when semen quality or number is a problem or if fertilization attempts during prior in vitro fertilization cycles failed.
Sometimes, other techniques are used in an IVF cycle, such as:
• Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). A single healthy sperm is injected directly into a mature egg. Often, ICSI is used when semen quality or quantity is poor. Or it might be used if fertilization attempts during prior IVF cycles didn’t work.
• Assisted hatching. This technique helps an embryo attach to the lining of the uterus. It opens part of the outer covering of the embryo, which is why it’s called hatching.
• Donor eggs or sperm. Often ART is done using a couple’s own eggs and sperm. But you have the choice to use eggs or sperm from a donor. This is an option if you’re single or in a same-sex relationship. It’s also done for medical reasons. These include poor egg quality due to age and sperm problems such as a blockage in the reproductive tract. Donor eggs or sperm also might be used if one partner has a genetic disease that could be passed on to a baby.
An infertile couple can use donated embryos too. These come from other couples who received infertility treatment and had leftover embryos that were frozen.
• Gestational carrier. People who don’t have a working uterus or for whom pregnancy poses a serious health risk might choose IVF using a gestational carrier. In this case, the couple’s embryo is placed in the uterus of a person who agrees to carry the pregnancy.
• Genetic testing. Embryos made with IVF can be tested for genetic problems. This is called preimplantation genetic testing. Embryos that don’t seem to have a gene problem can be placed in the uterus. This lowers the risk of a parent passing on a genetic condition to a child.
Complications of treatment
Complications of infertility treatment may include:
• Multiple pregnancy. The most common complication of infertility treatment is a multiple pregnancy — twins, triplets or more. A higher number of unborn babies in the womb raises the risk of premature labor and delivery.
It also makes problems during pregnancy more likely, such as gestational diabetes. Babies born too early face worse odds of health and development challenges. Ask your health care team about all the risks of a multiple pregnancy before you start treatment.
• Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). Fertility medicines can cause this condition in which the ovaries become swollen and painful. The risk of OHSS goes up with the use of assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization. Symptoms can include mild pain in the stomach area, bloating and upset stomach that lasts about a week. Nausea may last longer if you become pregnant. Rarely, a more serious form of OHSS causes rapid weight gain and shortness of breath. This is an emergency that needs to be treated in the hospital.
• Bleeding or infection. Assisted reproductive technology or reproductive surgery comes with a risk of bleeding or infection.
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