Everything there is to know about infertility
A few percentages of women all over the world are diagnosed with infertility. These women face great difficulty trying to get pregnant or even stay pregnant.
Infertility simply put, means being incapable of getting pregnant after one year of trial or even staying pregnant after one year. For most women, pregnancy complications leading to a miscarriage could occur few months into the pregnancy.
Pregnancy involves series of biological steps and infertility is diagnosed when there is a twist or problem in these steps. These biological steps include the process of ovulation, the egg traveling all the way via the fallopian tube to the womb, fertilization, and then, implantation.
Infertility is a common problem in many countries and could occur in both gender, men and women.
Most persons think infertility is only related to women, but if truth be told, most men have problems that could cause infertility such as low sperm count, genetic disorders, abnormal sperm function, or chronic health issues (diabetes or infections).
Other times, it could be a blend of problems from both genders, or even unknown causes.
Not being able to get pregnant has other factors that may not be disease-related. For instance, stress, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption are other factors that could cause infertility.
A woman who has never gotten pregnant despite several attempts is diagnosed with primary infertility.
While a woman who has gotten pregnant and conceived successfully just one time and hasn’t been able to since then is diagnosed with secondary infertility.
Most times, we hear cases of women having difficulty trying to get pregnant again after the first baby- that is secondary infertility.
Signs and symptoms of infertility
The main and foremost symptom of infertility is the inability to get pregnant.
Most signs and symptoms are related to underlying conditions that lead to serious health problems that could prevent most biological steps involved in getting pregnant.
In women, symptoms may include
- Irregular menstrual cycle
Variations in the menstrual cycle could result in infertility. Hormonal imbalance or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), uterine polyps could be responsible for irregular periods and this is a major contribution to infertility.
- Absence of menstrual periods
Most women go months without experiencing menstrual flow. Although it is rare, the factors responsible include stress, low body weight, eating disorders, excessive exercise, rapid weight gain, premature ovarian failure, genital tract defects.
- Painful or heavy periods
During periods, mild cramps may occur. But if the cramps get to a point where you can no longer carry out physical activities or go on with your daily life. You may be suffering from endometriosis. Endometriosis also contributes to infertility.
- Hormonal changes
Frequent changes in your hormone could be a sign of infertility. Noticeable signs may include weight gain, skin issues, reduced sexual activity, loss of hair, the appearance of facial growth, etc.
While in men, noticeable symptoms include:
- the onset of hormonal problems such as changes in sexual activity and function and changes in hair growth
- difficulty in maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction)
- small and firm testicles
- ejaculation problems
- pain or swelling in the testicle
Causes of infertility in men
Infertility in men can be caused by different factors, ranging from lifestyle choices to medical issues, sperm production, and also environmental factors.
It is best to consult a doctor if any of the following causes apply to you, at least after one year of trying to conceive. Causes of male infertility include:
- Delivery of sperm
Sperm is produced in the testicle, mixed with semen, and transported all the way to the penis for ejaculation.
When sperm delivery becomes a problem, infertility occurs. Sperm delivery problems could be a result of genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis, delayed ejaculation, or physical problems such as injury to any part of the reproductive organs or testicle blockage.
- Lifestyle choices
Bad lifestyle choices such as smoking cigarettes, excessive eating, consumption of alcohol, marijuana, medications to treat infections and anabolic steroids can lead to health conditions that could cause infertility. These health conditions include diabetes, erectile dysfunction, liver disease, and obesity.
- Sperm production and function
This could be a result of health issues. For instance, fertilization of the female egg is impossible if your sperm count is low.
For fertilization and pregnancy to take place, the sperm must be healthy, sufficient, and functional. Most sperms cannot even get to the partner’s egg and are regarded as abnormal or immotile.
- Medical issues
Most of the problems associated with male infertility are related to underlying health conditions and medical treatments.
These issues include delayed ejaculation, anti-sperm antibodies, varicocele, infections (such as STIs and inflammation of the reproductive organs), cancerous tumors, genetic defects, surgeries are done on the reproductive organs, and celiac disease.
The medical treatments that could cause infertility include cancer medications, some ulcer and arthritis drugs, testosterone replacement therapy, and other medications that can cause abnormal sperm production and function and also reduce male fertility.
- Environmental factors
Environmental elements also play a role in infertility. When you are overly exposed to industrial chemicals (painting materials, pesticides, organic solvents), radiation, heavy metals, high temperature, fertility becomes impaired.
Risk factors for infertility in men
Risk factors related to infertility in men include:
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- Older age
- Cigarette smoking
- Past or present infections
- Injury to the testicles
- Prior vasectomy or pelvic, testicle, or abdominal surgery
- History of undescended testicles
- Genetic defect or disorder
- Medical conditions such as cancerous tumors or sickle cell anemia
- Medical treatments or medications.
Prevention of male infertility
- Avoid overheating the testicles
High temperature may cause abnormal sperm function and production. What you can do to avoid this minimizes the use of hot tubs, avoid sitting for long periods, and stop wearing tight clothing for a long period of time.
- Try to maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid alcohol
- Do not smoke
- Do not get a vasectomy
- Reduce stress and take proper steps to relieve stress
- Do not get overly exposed to environmental elements such as toxins, pesticides, heavy metals.
Causes of infertility in women
Infertility in women occurs when there is a twist in any of the following biological processes:
This is a process where a mature egg is released from the ovary. Ovulation is an important part of the menstrual cycle. Generally, since menstrual cycles vary among women, it usually takes place in the fourth day before or after the cycles’ midpoint.
This biological process occurs in the fallopian tubes and it happens when a sperm cell successfully mixes with an egg cell after traveling via the cervix and uterus. For pregnancy to occur, this process has to take place.
If the meeting of the sperm cell with the egg cell is unsuccessful, then infertility has to be checked.
This is the last process that occurs when an already fertilized egg becomes attached to the walls of the uterus. This attachment is responsible for the growth and development of a baby.
Well, any of the steps from the above biological processes can be disrupted at any time by certain factors. These factors are responsible for female infertility and include:
- Damage or injury to the fallopian tubes is caused by PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), past surgery, and pelvic tuberculosis.
- Endometriosis, which occurs when there are implantation and growth of tissue in another location other than the uterus.
- Ovulation disorders and include premature ovarian failure, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and hypothalamic disorders
- Uterine or cervical issues.
- Medications could interfere with female infertility and these medications include chemotherapy, antipsychotic drugs, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Risk factors for infertility in women
The factors listed below could increase your chances of infertility, as a woman
- Older age
- Excessive weight or obesity
- Past or present infections, especially sexually transmitted infections
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
Prevention of female infertility
To improve and boost fertility, it is best to prevent certain things that may cause infertility.
- Quit smoking. This is because smoking can damage the cervix and fallopian tubes, age the ovaries, and increase the risk for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancy.
- Reduce stress by engaging in self-care activities
- Avoid alcohol and limit caffeine intake
- Try to maintain a healthy weight. Remember, obesity is one risk factor for infertility and excessive eating can contribute to factors that could cause infertility.
Infertility testing and treatment
If you are trying to conceive and it’s really difficult, we advise you to consult a doctor and fix an appointment.
As a man, its best to see your doctor after one year of trying to conceive. First of all, your doctor will check your medical history. This is done to check if you have any underlying condition responsible for the infertility.
Questions about your overall health, sexual history and your knowledge on any factor that could impair fertility will be asked. Also, physical examinations will be done to check for lumps or structural defects on the parts of your reproductive organs.
A sample of your semen will be asked for by your doctor. This part is called a semen analysis. After providing the sample, it will be sent to the laboratory to observe the nature of your sperm. Observations includes shape, motility and number of sperm present.
The results from the physical examinations and semen analysis will determine if additional tests should be done. The tests will include genetic and hormonal testing and genital ultrasound.
Male infertility can be treated and the treatment depends on the cause or factor influencing it. Treatment includes surgery, assisted reproductive technology, and medications.
At age 30, a woman’s fertility reduces drastically. We advise that women above 35 should book an appointment with a doctor after 6 months of trying to conceive and women under 35 should book an appointment with a doctor after 12 months of trying to conceive.
Firstly, your doctor will check your medical history. This is done to check if you have any underlying condition responsible for infertility.
Questions about your overall health, sexual history, and knowledge of any factor that could impair fertility will be asked. Also, an examination on your pelvic area will be conducted to check for complications like pelvic inflammatory disease, fibroids, and endometriosis.
As a woman, your doctor will check for ovulation disorders and will want to be sure you ovulate every month. Ovulation can be observed through blood testing.
Tests to check infertility in women include an ultrasound used to check the ovaries and uterus, laparoscopy, ovarian reserve testing.
Female infertility can be treated as well and also involves surgery, medication, and assisted reproductive technology. Assisted reproductive technology, in-vitro fertilization (IVF), and intrauterine insemination (IUI) are all parts of the methods taken to improve female fertility.
For both male infertility and female infertility, natural treatments can help improve and boost fertility rapidly. Natural treatments for infertility include:
- Vitamins such as iron, vitamins C and E, folate, and zinc
- Fertility diet
- Essential oils
Infertility happens to different couples. The good news about it is, your lifestyle choices can minimize the risk and it can be treated.
Although people feel stigmatized and mentally down because they are infertile, there are appropriate treatments for you. The appropriate treatment can depend on age, infertility cause, and personal preferences.
Sometimes, infertility may not be treated but it shouldn’t leave the couples hopeless. Your doctor may suggest proper options like artificial insemination, adoption, surrogacy, or donor sperm or eggs.