Infertility means not being able to get pregnant or conceive after one year of trying (or six months if a woman is 35 or older).
Pregnancy is the result of a process that has many steps. To get pregnant:
A woman's body must release an egg from her ovaries (ovulation).
The egg must go through a fallopian tube toward the uterus (womb).
A man's sperm must join with (fertilize) the egg along the way.
The fertilized egg must attach to the inside of the uterus (implantation).
Infertility can happen if there are problems with any of these steps.
Is infertility a common problem?
Yes. Today around 15% of the Indian population both male and female are infertile.
Is infertility just a woman's problem?
No, infertility is not always a woman's problem. Both women and men can have problems that causes infertility.
What causes infertility in women?
Most cases of female infertility are caused by problems with ovulation. Without ovulation, there are no eggs to be fertilized. May include absent or irregular menstrual periods.
There are two main causes of ovulation:
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and is the most common cause of female infertility.
Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI). POI occurs when a woman's ovaries stop working normally before she is 40. (different from early menopause).
Less common causes of fertility problems in women include:
Blocked fallopian tubes
Physical problems with the uterus
What things increase a woman's risk of infertility?
Following are the reasons that can increase the risk of infertility:
Excess alcohol use
Being overweight or underweight
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
How does age affect a woman's ability to have children?
Many couples wait till the age of 35-40 to conceive. Age is a growing cause of fertility problems. About one-third of couples in which the woman is over 35 have fertility problems.
How age has a negative effect on pregnancy:
Her ovaries become less able to release eggs
Less number of eggs left and are not as healthy.
Chances of having a miscarriage
How long should women try to get pregnant before consulting a doctor?
Experts suggest at least one year. Women 35 or older should see their doctors after six months of trying.
Women should talk to their doctors if they have:
Irregular periods or no menstrual periods
Very painful periods
Pelvic inflammatory disease
More than one miscarriage
It is good for any woman to talk to a doctor before trying to get pregnant. Doctors can help you get your body ready for a healthy baby and can even answer questions on fertility and give tips on conceiving.
How will doctors find out if a woman and her partner have fertility problems?
They will do an infertility checkup. This involves a physical exam. The doctor will also ask for both partners' health and sexual histories.
In men, doctors usually begin by testing the semen. They look at the number, shape, and movement of the sperm. Sometimes doctors also suggest testing the level of a man's hormones.
In women, the first step is to find out if she is ovulating each month. There are a few ways to do this. A woman can track her ovulation at home by:
Writing down changes in her morning body temperature for several months
Writing down how her cervical mucus looks for several months
Using a home ovulation test kit (available at drug stores)
Doctors can also check ovulation with blood tests or with the help of an ultrasound.
If ovulation is normal, there are other fertility tests available
Hysterosalpingography: This is an x-ray of the uterus and fallopian tubes. A special dye is injected into the uterus through vagina . If the tube moves freely, then there is no problem but if it doesn’t then it means that there are physical blocks present inside and prevents the egg from moving. And therefore, it can’t even reach the sperm.
Laparoscopy : A minor surgery to see inside the abdomen. The doctor uses a small tool with a light called a laparoscope (LAP-uh-roh-skohp). She or he makes a small cut in the lower abdomen and inserts the laparoscope. With the laparoscope, the doctor can check the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus for disease and physical problems.
How do doctors treat infertility?
Infertility can be treated with medicine, surgery, artificial insemination, or assisted reproductive technology or a combination of all of these. Doctors recommend specific treatments for infertility based on:
How long the couple has been trying to get pregnant
The age of both the man and woman
The overall health of the partners
Preference of the partners
In women, some physical problems can also be corrected with surgery.
How often is assisted reproductive technology (ART) successful?
We have very good success rates in terms of ART.
Some things that affect the success rate of ART include:
Age of the partners
Reason for infertility
Type of ART
If the egg is fresh or frozen
If the embryo is fresh or frozen
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.
What is intrauterine insemination (IUI)?
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is an infertility treatment and is generally referred to 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:
Mild male factor infertility
Women who have problems with their cervical mucus
Couples with unexplained infertility
What is assisted reproductive technology (ART)?
Assisted reproductive technology (ART) is a group of different methods used to help infertile couples. ART works by removing eggs from a woman's body. The eggs are then mixed with sperm to make embryos and then injected in the woman's body.
What are the different types of assisted reproductive technology (ART)?
Common methods of ART include:
In vitro fertilization (IVF) means fertilization outside of the body. IVF is the most effective ART. It is often used when a woman's fallopian tubes are blocked or when a man produces too few sperm. Doctors treat the woman with a drug that causes the ovaries to produce multiple eggs. Once mature, the eggs are removed from the woman. They are put in a dish in the lab along with the man's sperm for fertilization. After 3 to 5 days, healthy embryos are implanted in the woman's uterus.
Zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT) or Tubal Embryo Transfer is similar to IVF. Fertilization occurs in the laboratory. Then the very young embryo is transferred to the fallopian tube instead of the uterus.
Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) involves transferring eggs and sperm into the woman's fallopian tube. So fertilization occurs in the woman's body. Few practices offer GIFT as an option.
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is often used for couples in which there are serious problems with the sperm. Sometimes it is also used for older couples or for those with failed IVF attempts. In ICSI, a single sperm is injected into a mature egg. Then the embryo is transferred to the uterus or fallopian tube.
ART procedures sometimes involve the use of donor eggs, donor sperm, or previously frozen embryos. Donor eggs are sometimes used for women who can not produce eggs or when they both have a genetic disease that can be passed on to the baby. The donated embryo is transferred to the uterus. The child will not be genetically related to either parent.