If you and your partner are struggling to have a sweet bundle of joy, you’re not alone. (Trust us.) Infertility is best described as not being able to get pregnant (or stay pregnant) despite having frequent, unprotected sex for at least a year. In the United States, about 12% of married couples have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant — that’s one in eight women. There can be a whole slew of emotions wrapped up in the struggle to get pregnant: frustration, guilt, shame, and grief, for instance. Some suffer in silence. Others open up to just a select few. Just know that you don’t have to go through it alone. And fortunately, there are several safe and effective treatments that can significantly improve your chances of conceiving.
Causes of Infertility
Both men and women can contribute to cases of infertility — about one-third of the time there is an issue with the woman, one-third of cases can be attributed to men, and remaining cases can be a result of problems with both parties or unknown factors.
Causes of male infertility may include abnormal sperm production or function, premature ejaculation or other issues with the delivery of sperm, certain environmental or lifestyle factors (smoking, alcohol and drug use, high blood pressure, depression, age, etc.), and cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation. Men can take certain steps to boost chances of conception including exercising moderately and avoiding drugs, smoking, excessive drinking, hot tubs or hot baths (known to temporarily affect sperm production), and exposure to industrial or environmental toxins.
Causes of female infertility can be attributed to ovulation disorders such as polycystic ovarian syndrome , structural abnormalities of the uterus like fibroids, irregular or absent menstrual periods, blockage or damage to the fallopian tubes, endometriosis, early menopause, or certain forms of cancer and its treatment. Some risk factors may also play a part in female infertility, including age, smoking, alcohol use, or being overweight or underweight. Women who wish to get pregnant can also take certain steps to boost fertility including avoiding tobacco, alcohol and drugs, limiting caffeine, exercising moderately, and tracking ovulation.
When to Call Your Doctor
Of course, you can always speak to your physician about any concerns you have, but most experts suggest speaking with a doctor about infertility if you have been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for at least one year — or if you’re over the age of 35 and have been trying for six months. Other factors that may warrant a consult include irregular, absent or very painful periods, known fertility problems, certain genetic conditions, multiple miscarriages, or previous cancer treatment.
There are a variety of exams and evaluations that can be done on both men and women before a formal infertility diagnosis. These may include an overall physical exam, hormone or genetic testing, a semen analysis, ovulation testing or ultrasound, an X-ray of the uterus and fallopian tubes, or a minimally invasive surgery such as a laparoscopy. Not everyone will need all (or even very many) of these tests before a cause is found. You and your doctor can discuss which tests may be needed.
Treatment for infertility depends on a variety of factors including the cause, how long you’ve tried to conceive, age, and personal preferences. Infertility can be treated in both men and women through a variety of methods — some of which can be complicated and costly — including fertility drugs that can regulate or induce ovulation, other medications, surgery, artificial insemination, or assisted reproductive technology such as IVF.
If needed, we are happy to refer our Beaches OBGYN patients to one of two trusted infertility specialists: The Florida Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Brown Fertility, both located here in Jacksonville. If you believe you may be struggling with infertility, you don’t have to suffer in silence — speak with your doctor about what tests and treatment options may be right for you.