Understanding the Causes of Infertility

Infertility affects millions of individuals and couples across the globe, making the journey to parenthood challenging for many. At IHR, we’re committed to providing insightful and helpful resources for those navigating this complex issue. In this blog, we delve into the multifaceted causes of infertility in women and men, aimed to enlighten and empower our readers with knowledge, fostering a supportive community around reproductive health.

What is Infertility?

As of the newest definition put forth by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), infertility is defined as the challenge of not achieving pregnancy after trying for a specific timeframe—usually a year for women under 35 and six months for those aged 35 and over. Additionally, situations where medical assistance, such as the use of donor eggs or embryos, is necessary to conceive also fall into the category of infertility. This encompasses difficulties stemming from a variety of factors, including an individual's or couple's medical, sexual, and reproductive history, age, and results from physical examinations and diagnostic tests.  This broad definition ensures that anyone who faces hurdles in starting a family, regardless of their circumstances or the strategies they need to employ, receives the support and options they need on their journey towards parenthood.

It can affect all genders, with factors contributing to infertility distributed roughly equally between the sexes. Understanding that infertility is a shared journey is crucial in fostering empathy and support among couples.

Common Causes of Infertility in Women

doctor explaining causes of infertility to couple struggling to get pregnant

Ovulatory Disorders

One of the primary causes of infertility in women is an ovulation disorder, which can stem from various conditions, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), hyperprolactinemia, and thyroid disorders. These conditions can disrupt the regular release of eggs from the ovaries, making conception difficult.

Tubal and Pelvic Causes

Fallopian tube damage or blockage is another significant cause of infertility in women. This can result from pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), usually caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs), endometriosis, or previous surgeries in the pelvic area. Endometriosis, where tissue similar to the lining inside the uterus grows outside it, can also affect the ovaries and uterus directly, impacting fertility.

Uterine or Cervical Abnormalities

Abnormalities with the uterus or cervix can hinder conception or pregnancy. These can include congenital anomalies, polyps, fibroids, or even scarring from previous procedures.  

Common Causes of Infertility in Men

Sperm Production and Function

Issues with sperm production or function are leading causes of male infertility. This can include a low sperm count, poor sperm mobility (motility), or abnormally shaped sperm (morphology). Various factors can contribute to these conditions, including genetic defects, health issues like diabetes, or infections such as chlamydia.

Ejaculation and Delivery Issues

Problems with the delivery of sperm can arise from premature ejaculation, retrograde ejaculation (where semen enters the bladder instead of exiting through the penis), or blockages in the ducts that transport sperm. Surgical history, such as vasectomy, or congenital issues can also play a role.

Environmental and Lifestyle Factors

Exposure to certain environmental factors can significantly impact both male and female fertility. These include toxins like pesticides and heavy metals, lifestyle choices such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and even stress. Overexposure to heat, like frequent use of hot tubs, can also affect sperm production in men.

Combined and Unexplained Causes of Infertility

Genetic Factors

Genetic issues can contribute to infertility in both sexes. Chromosomal abnormalities can affect sperm and egg production, leading to difficulty in conceiving. Couples with a family history of infertility may also be at a higher risk.

Additionally, it's important to note that advancing age can significantly influence the genetic integrity of embryos, often leading to aneuploidy, which is a common genetic abnormality that can affect fertility outcomes.

Unexplained Infertility

In some cases, despite thorough evaluations, a specific cause for infertility cannot be identified. This "unexplained infertility" can be frustrating for couples but opens the door to treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF) that bypass natural conception barriers.

The Road to Infertility Diagnosis and Treatment

unexplained infertility diagnosis and treatment

Understanding the root causes of infertility is the first step toward seeking appropriate treatment. A thorough fertility evaluation may involve physical examinations, blood tests to check hormone levels, imaging studies like ultrasounds, and specific tests such as semen analysis for men.

Treatment for infertility varies widely and depends on the underlying cause. It can range from medication to stimulate ovulation to surgical interventions to repair anatomical issues. Assisted reproductive technologies (ART), including IVF, offer hope to many couples facing infertility.

Nurturing Hope and Health While Navigating Infertility

The journey through infertility is deeply personal and often challenging. At the Institute for Human Reproduction, we believe in nurturing hope alongside offering the most advanced reproductive technologies and treatments. Understanding the causes of infertility is a crucial step in demystifying the condition, empowering individuals and couples to seek the help they need, and fostering a community of support and understanding.

Our commitment is to provide compassionate, comprehensive care to all those navigating the path to parenthood. Connect with our team to learn more about infertility and your options.  

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