Most experts define infertility as not being able to get pregnant after at least one year of trying. Women who are able to get pregnant but then have repeat miscarriages are also said to be infertile.Pregnancy is the result of a complex chain of events. In order to get pregnant:
Infertility can result from problems that interfere with any of these steps.
About 12% of women (7.3 million) in the United States aged 15-44 had difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term in 2002, according to the National Centre for Health Statistics.
No, infertility is not always a woman’s problem. In about one-third of cases, infertility is due to the woman (female factors). In another third of cases, infertility is due to the man (male factors). The remaining cases are caused by a mixture of male and female factors or by unknown factors.
Infertility in men is most often caused by:
Sometimes a man is born with the problems that affect his sperm. Other times problems start later in life due to illness or injury. For example, cystic fibrosis often causes infertility in men.
The number and quality of a man’s sperm can be affected by his overall health and lifestyle. Some things that may reduce sperm number and/or quality include:
Problems with ovulation account for most cases of infertility in women. Without ovulation, there are no eggs to be fertilized. Some signs that a woman is not ovulating normally include irregular or absent menstrual periods.Less common causes of fertility problems in women include:
More and more women are waiting until their 30s and 40s to have children. Actually, about 20% of women in the United States now have their first child after age 35. So age is an increasingly common cause of fertility problems. About one-third of couples in which the woman is over 35 have fertility problems.Ageing decreases a woman’s chances of having a baby in the following ways:
Most healthy women under the age of 30 shouldn’t worry about infertility unless they’ve been trying to get pregnant for at least a year. At this point, women should talk to their doctors about a fertility evaluation. Men should also talk to their doctors if this much time has passed.In some cases, women should talk to their doctors sooner. Women in their 30s who’ve been trying to get pregnant for six months should speak to their doctors as soon as possible. A woman’s chances of having a baby decrease rapidly every year after the age of 30. So getting a complete and timely fertility evaluation is especially important.
Infertility can be treated with medicine, surgery, artificial insemination, or assisted reproductive technology. Many times these treatments are combined. About two-thirds of couples who are treated for infertility are able to have a baby. In most cases, infertility is treated with drugs or surgery.Doctors recommend specific treatments for infertility based on:
Doctors often treat infertility in men in the following ways:
Various fertility medicines are often used to treat women with ovulation problems. It is important to talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of these medicines. You should understand the risks, benefits, and side effects.
Doctors also use surgery to treat some causes of infertility. Problems with a woman’s ovaries, fallopian tubes, or uterus can sometimes be corrected with surgery.
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is another type of treatment for infertility.IUI is known by most people as artificial insemination. In this procedure, the woman is injected with specially prepared sperm. Sometimes the woman is also treated with medicines that stimulate ovulation before IUI.
IUI is often used to treat:
Some common medicines used to treat infertility in women include:
Many fertility drugs increase a woman’s chance of having twins, triplets, or other multiples. Women who are pregnant with multiple fetuses have more problems during pregnancy. Multiple fetuses have a high risk of being born too early (prematurely). Premature babies are at a higher risk of health and developmental problems.
Assisted reproductive technology (ART) is a term that describes several different methods used to help infertile couples. ART involves removing eggs from a woman’s body, mixing them with sperm in the laboratory, and putting the embryos back into a woman’s body.
Success rates vary and depend on many factors. Some things that affect the success rate of ART include:
The CDC collects success rates on ART for some fertility clinics. According to the 2003 CDC report on ART, the average percentage of ART cycles that led to a healthy baby were as follows:
ART can be expensive and time-consuming. But it has allowed many couples to have children that otherwise would not have been conceived. The most common complication of ART is multiple fetuses. But this is a problem that can be prevented or minimized in several different ways.
Common methods of ART include:
ART procedures sometimes involve the use of donor eggs (eggs from another woman), donor sperm, or previously frozen embryos.
Donor eggs are sometimes used for women who can not produce eggs. Also, donor eggs or donor sperm are sometimes used when the woman or man has a genetic disease that can be passed on to the baby.
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