Infertility is defined as the inability to carry a pregnancy to term after one year of unprotected sexual intercourse, caused by problems in either the male or female (sometimes both) reproductive tracts.
When a couple is experiencing infertility problems, they should undergo infertility testing to determine the source of the problem. Discussing the cause of infertility can be difficult given gender stereotypes and cultural stigmas. Up until recently people assumed fertility problems always stemmed from the female. Recent research has proven, however, that a male infertility factor is the source of infertility in approximately 20 percent of struggling couples. Doctors will perform specific female infertility tests on women and male infertility tests on men.
Pregnancy occurs when a male spermatozoa interacts with a female oocyte (immature egg cell). Once the sperm penetrates the layer surrounding the egg, it binds with the egg’s plasma membrane, which activates the egg from its latent state and causes fertilization. When the sperm and egg fertilize, the egg becomes an embryo as the cells begin to divide. In order for a successful pregnancy to take place, all the reproductive organs and bodily cells must be in optimal shape.
The causes of infertility are plentiful and yet different in men and women.
Female Infertility Factor
A number of factors can spark a female infertility factor. The most common source of fertility problems in women is due to a hormonal imbalance. A hormonal imbalance affects ovulation, which is necessary for fertilization. There are a handful of hormones needed for the female’s reproductive role, most importantly being the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which encourages the uterus to produce eggs.
Male Infertility Factor
The cause of a male infertility factor is most commonly due to a low sperm count. A number of factors can influence male infertility in the short-term as well as long-term. Overheating of the testicles, for example, reduces the sperm count temporarily. Men’s sperm has to travel inside the uterus and penetrate outer layers of the female egg. In so doing, sperm has to be high in quantity, healthy and motive. Any abnormalities with the sperm or semen can cause infertility.
In the United States, experts estimate that ten percent (6 million adults) of the adult population is burdened with infertility. As a result of this phenomenon, medical researchers have made leaping advancements to grant couples the gift of fertility. Different infertility treatments are designed to combat specific causes of infertility. The success rates of In-Vitro Fertilization continue to rise as new research perfects the treatment. In addition, other treatments in conjunction with IVF, such as IVF with ICSI or IVF with egg donation offer couples more options to combat infertility.
With growing research on the cause of infertility, infertility specialists have been able to expand infertility treatments to target specific problems. Couples can overcome infertility through a variety of means. Medical treatment through assisted reproduction technology has opened a number of doors for infertility. Depending on the source of the problem, there are a number of options patients can explore. IVF procedures are the most common assisted reproduction treatments. Patients can also consider non in-vitro treatments such as Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) or sperm donation.
Simpler and less expensive techniques have also emerged. The FDA approved an at-home contraception kit in 2007 designed to push all the semen against the cervical wall for 6 hours following intercourse.
The information on this site is not a substitute for diagnosis or treatment from a licensed medical practitioner. If you are experiencing a serious medical condition call your local emergency services or your doctor.