During National Infertility Awareness Week and all year round, we acknowledge the struggle many couples face when trying to conceive.
National Infertility Awareness Week is April 18-24, 2021. In honor of this special week, we’re taking a moment to discuss the symptoms and causes of infertility, as well as which women may be more at risk of having fertility struggles.
Symptoms of Infertility
Infertility, by definition, is not being able to conceive despite having frequent, unprotected sex for at least a year.
Ten to 15 percent of couples in the United States are infertile. The main symptom of infertility is the inability to get pregnant. There may be no other obvious symptoms present. Sometimes, a woman with infertility may have irregular or missed menstrual periods. Sometimes, a man with infertility may have some signs of hormonal problems, such as changes in hair growth or sexual function.
The good news is that many couples will eventually conceive, with or without treatment.
Women should speak to a doctor if they are 35 or older and have been trying to conceive for six months or more. Men should talk to a doctor if they have a low sperm count, a history of testicular problems, or have undergone cancer treatment.
Causes of Infertility
Infertility is an interruption to the steps needed for ovulation and fertilization to happen correctly. The causes of infertility are present at birth for some and develop later in life for others.
Infertility affects men and women at roughly the same rate.
Causes of infertility in men can include:
- Abnormal sperm production or function due to undescended testicles, genetic defects, diabetes or infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea, mumps or HIV
- Problems with sperm delivery due to sexual problems, such as premature ejaculation
- Overexposure to some environmental factors, like pesticides, other chemicals and radiation
- Use of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuaana, anabolic steroids, medications for bacterial infections
- High blood pressure
- Damage from cancer and cancer treatment, including radiation or chemotherapy
Treatment for cancer can impair sperm production, sometimes severely.
Infertility in women can be caused by:
- Ovulation disorders, which affect the release of the eggs from the ovaries
- Uterine or cervical abnormalities, including abnormalities with the cervix, polyps in the uterus or the shape of the uterus
- Fallopian tube damage or blockage, often caused by inflammation of the fallopian tube
- Endometriosis, which happens when tissue grows outside of the uterus
- Pelvic adhesions, which are bands of scar tissue that bind organs and can form after pelvic infection, appendicitis, endometriosis or abdominal or pelvic surgery
- Cancer and cancer treatment
Infertility Risk Factors
Many risk factors for infertility are the same for both men and women, including:
- Age. Women’s fertility gradually declines with age, especially in the mid-30s, and it drops rapidly after age 37. Infertility in older women is likely due to the lower number and quality of eggs, and can also be due to health problems that affect fertility. Men over age 40 may be less fertile than younger men.
- Tobacco use. Smoking tobacco or marijuana by either partner may reduce the likelihood of pregnancy. Smoking also reduces the possible effectiveness of fertility treatment. Miscarriages are more frequent in women who smoke. Smoking can increase the risk of erectile dysfunction and a low sperm count in men.
- Alcohol use. For women, there’s no safe level of alcohol use during conception or pregnancy. Alcohol use may contribute to infertility. For men, heavy alcohol use can decrease sperm count and motility.
- Being overweight. Among American women, an inactive lifestyle and being overweight may increase the risk of infertility. For men, sperm count also may be affected by being overweight.
- Being underweight. Women at risk of fertility problems include those with eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, and those who follow a very low-calorie or restrictive diet.
- Exercise issues. A lack of exercise contributes to obesity, which increases the risk of infertility. Less often, ovulation problems may be associated with frequent strenuous, intense exercise in women who are not overweight.
A healthy lifestyle goes a long way toward preventing infertility. Avoiding drug and tobacco use is an important step that men and women can take when trying to conceive. Limiting alcoholic drinking is also helpful. Individuals trying to conceive should also exercise regularly and avoid drastic weight changes.
If you are trying to conceive and are concerned about infertility issues, contact us today.