Infertility means that couples have been trying to get pregnant with frequent intercourse for at least a year with no success. Female infertility, male infertility or a combination of the two affects millions of couples in the United States. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of couples have trouble getting pregnant or getting to a successful delivery.
Infertility results from female infertility factors about one-third of the time and male infertility factors about one-third of the time. In the rest, the cause is either unknown or a combination of male and female factors.
The cause of female infertility can be difficult to diagnose, but many treatments are available. Treatment options depend on the underlying problem. Treatment isn't always necessary — many infertile couples will go on to conceive a child spontaneously.
The main symptom of infertility is the inability of a couple to get pregnant. A menstrual cycle that's too long (35 days or more), too short (less than 21 days), irregular or absent can be a sign of lack of ovulation, which can be associated with female infertility. There may be no other outward signs or symptoms.
When to see a doctor
Your doctor also may want to begin testing or treatment right away if you or your partner has known fertility problems, or if you have a history of irregular or painful periods, pelvic inflammatory disease, repeated miscarriages, prior cancer treatment, or endometriosis.
To become pregnant, each of these factors is essential:
For pregnancy to occur, every part of the complex human reproduction process has to take place just right. The steps in this process are as follows:
In women, a number of factors can disrupt this process at any step. Female infertility is caused by one or more of these factors.
Damage to fallopian tubes (tubal infertility)
Uterine or cervical causes
Female reproductive system
The ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix and vagina (vaginal canal) make up the female reproductive system. ...
During each menstrual cycle, an egg is released by one of the ovaries (ovulation). The egg travels into the fallopian tube. If fertilization is to occur, sperm ejaculated into the vagina must swim up ...
Certain factors may put you at higher risk of infertility, including:
Preparing for your appointment
For an infertility evaluation, you'll likely see a reproductive endocrinologist — a doctor who specializes in treating disorders that prevent couples from conceiving. Your doctor will likely want to evaluate both you and your partner to identify potential causes — and possible treatments — for infertility.
What you can do
Some basic questions to ask include:
Don't hesitate to ask your doctor to repeat information or to ask follow-up questions.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
If you've been unable to conceive within a reasonable period of time, seek help from your doctor for further evaluation and treatment of infertility.
Fertility tests may include:
Depending on your situation, rarely your testing may include:
Treatments and drugs
How your infertility is treated depends on the cause, your age, how long you've been infertile and personal preferences. Because infertility is a complex disorder, treatment involves significant financial, physical, psychological and time commitments. Although some women need just one or two therapies to restore fertility, it's possible that several different types of treatment may be needed before you're able to conceive.
Treatments can either attempt to restore fertility — by means of medication or surgery — or assist in reproduction with sophisticated techniques.
Fertility restoration: Stimulating ovulation with fertility drugs
Risks of fertility drugs
Fertility restoration: Surgery
Coping and support
Dealing with female infertility can be physically and emotionally exhausting. To cope with the ups and downs of infertility testing and treatment, consider these strategies:
If you're a woman thinking about getting pregnant soon or in the future, you may improve your chances of having normal fertility if you:
Last Updated: 2013-07-16
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