What is infertility?
Many couples struggle to have a baby, for a variety of reasons. In some cases, the woman becomes pregnant, but the pregnancy ends in miscarriage. For other couples, the pregnancy does not happen at all. Infertility is defined as the inability to fall pregnant in spite of frequent, unprotected sexual intercourse for at least one year.
Historically, infertility has been regarded as a female problem, but in recent decades we have learned more about male infertility. Studies show that infertility affects men and women equally.
Male fertility problems
Infertility in men can be caused by one or more of the following::
- The man does not produce enough fertile sperm, or the quality of the sperm is not high enough for fertilization to be successful. Causes of this include undescended testicles, medical conditions that affect hormone levels, and testicular cancer.
- The man produces viable sperm, but there is a problem with delivery. This can be caused by sexual problems like premature ejaculation, damaged reproductive organs and testicular blockages.
- Some men carry genetic defects that are incompatible with pregnancy. Generally, these defects do not cause any symptoms in the carrier, and their presence is only discovered after several failed pregnancy attempts.
Female fertility problems
Fertility in women can be affected by the following:
- Ovulation – the release of eggs from the ovaries – can be impaired as a result of several things, including ovarian cysts, hormonal imbalances, tumours and irregular menstrual cycles.
- Problems with the cervix or uterus can cause infertility. Examples include uterine fibroids and polyps.
- Problems with the Fallopian tubes can prevent eggs from traveling to the uterus for implantation.
- Endometriosis – the growth of uterine tissue outside of the uterus, can result in impaired functioning of the ovaries or Fallopian tubes.
- Other conditions that can affect fertility in women include early menopause in women under forty, cancer and its treatments, genetic defects and poorly controlled diabetes.