What is Infertility?
Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system that impairs the body’s ability to conceive children. Both men and women are equally affected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about 11.8% percent of women in the United States between the ages of 15 and 44 have difficulty getting or staying pregnant.
Women unable to become pregnant after one year of trying (or after six months for women age 35 or older) are defined as infertile. So are women who are able to become pregnant but cannot sustain their pregnancies. For women to successfully conceive and bring a baby to full term, a complicated, multi-staged process is involved:
- A woman’s body must ovulate, or release an egg from one of her ovaries
- The egg must be picked up by the fallopian tube.
- The sperm must be able to meet the egg through an unblocked fallopian tube
- The sperm has to fertilize the egg when it connects with it
- The fertilized egg (embryo) must travel through the fallopian tube to the uterus
- The embryo must attach to the inside of the uterus in a process called implantation
- The hormonal environment must be adequate and the embryo healthy in order for the pregnancy to reach full term
If a problem occurs at any point during this process, infertility can result. Approximately one-third of infertility cases are the result of women’s problems and another one-third are attributable to men. The remaining cases are either unexplained or caused by a combination of problems in both partners.
What are causes for Male Infertility?
Among the most common causes of male infertility are azoospermia, which is a condition that causes a man to produce no sperm cells, and oligospermia, in which too few sperm cells are produced. In addition, sperms cells can die or become malformed before they reach the egg. Sometimes a man is born with a genetic disease that affects his sperm. Cystic fibrosis and chromosomal abnormalities can cause male infertility, for example. Illness or injury that occurs later in life can also affect a man’s fertility.
Varicocele, a condition that is marked by varicose veins on a man’s testicles, another possible cause of male infertility. With varicocele, the large veins cause the testicles to heat, which can affect the number or shape of sperm produced.
In other cases, problems with the movement of the sperm can cause fertility problems. So can injuries or other damage to the reproductive system, which cause sperm to be blocked.
A male’s risk of infertility can be affected by his health and lifestyle. The health of a man’s sperm and the number he produces can be reduced by:
- Heavy alcohol use
- Cigarette smoking
- Advanced age
- Environmental toxins
- Radiation and chemotherapy treatment for cancer
- Other health problems, such as kidney disease or hormone problems
What are causes for Female Infertility?
The most common factor in female infertility is ovulation disorder. When ovulation does not occur, no eggs are available for fertilization. Irregular or absent menstrual periods can be an indication that a woman is not ovulating.
Problems with ovulation are most commonly with Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormone imbalance, which can interfere with normal ovulation. This is the most common cause of female infertility.
Other, causes of female infertility include:
- Damaged or blocked fallopian tubes
- Endometriosis- a sometimes painful condition that causes scar tissue and cysts to grow on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, outer wall of the uterus, intestines, or other organs in the belly
- Physical problems with the uterus
- Uterine fibroids, which are non-cancerous clusters of muscle and tissue on the walls of the uterus.
A woman’s risk of infertility can be increased by a number of factors. Age is one of the biggest and is a growing one in the United States, given that approximately 20 percent of women in the U.S. have their first child after age 35. Age impacts a woman in a number of ways: ovaries become less able to release eggs, fewer eggs are left, those that are left aren’t as healthy, chances for miscarriage increase as a woman ages, and a women is more likely to have a health problem the older she is.
The following factors can adversely impact a woman’s fertility as well:
- Excessive use of alcohol
- Poor diet
- Being over or under weight
- Having a sexually transmitted disease or infection
- Health problems causing hormonal changes