On paper, getting pregnant isn’t so hard…after all, you just have to have sex or time fertility treatments at the right time of the month, right?
Getting pregnant after an infertility diagnosis
Unfortunately, getting pregnant after being diagnosed with infertility is oftentimes far easier said than done. Many peoples’ dreams of pregnancy are delayed by conditions of infertility, but eventually, the vast majority of people (even those previously diagnosed as infertile) are able to successfully conceive – it just might take a little time and a little help.
What does “infertility” really mean?
Contrary to popular belief, just because somebody is diagnosed as “infertile,” it doesn’t mean they are entirely unable to get pregnant. Resolve, the National Infertility Association, defines infertility as “a disease or condition of the reproductive system often diagnosed after a couple has had one year of unprotected, well-timed intercourse or if the woman has suffered from multiple miscarriages and the woman is under 35 years of age. If the woman is over 35 years old, it is diagnosed after six months of unprotected, well-timed intercourse.” Conditions of infertility can affect all people and tend to do so with an equal likelihood.
Most people diagnosed as infertile do have some underlying condition that is preventing them from getting pregnant, but more often than not, the condition can be successfully treated or circumvented by a fertility specialist.
What is the difference between “infertility” and “subfertility”?
There is a lot of overlap between the terms “infertility” and “subfertility,” but despite the similarities, there are some serious differences as well. Most people diagnosed as “infertile” require medical assistance to conceive, whether IVF, artificial insemination, Clomid, or something else.
A person who is subfertile is still able to conceive without medical intervention, but it may take a bit longer than for most. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is an example of a condition that many consider to be one of subfertility, as a woman with PCOS may still ovulate and be able to conceive on her own. It’s important to understand the difference between infertility/subfertility, and sterility, as even couples who have been diagnosed as infertile or subfertile can conceive, while those who are sterile cannot.
What are the most common causes of infertility?
Infertility can, and does, affect men and women and at about an equal rate – in fact, studies show that about ⅓ of cases of infertility are attributed to male-factors, ⅓ to female-factors, and ⅓ have unknown causes. Some of the most common causes of infertility in females include:
PCOS is a condition caused by a hormonal imbalance that can result in cysts on the ovaries, and a disrupted menstrual cycle. Women with PCOS tend to have irregular ovulations and periods, if they occur at all, which can make getting pregnant a challenge. Clomid and Metformin are some of the more popular medications that fertility specialists can prescribe to help you fight PCOS.
Endometriosis is a disorder in which endometrial cells (cells from the inner wall of the uterus) grow in places outside of the uterus, which can result in serious pain, and problems getting pregnant in the future. Endometriosis can affect hormone balances, and also impair a woman’s ability to ovulate, or inhibit a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall.
Uterine fibroids are a less common cause of infertility than PCOS or endometriosis, but can prove disruptive all the same. Fibroids can seriously interfere with the ability of a fertilized egg to implant, and can also cause miscarriage if one does successfully conceive. Women of African descent are more likely to develop fibroids, as are women who are overweight.
Some common male causes of infertility include:
Poor sperm quality
Whether due to age, lifestyle factors, or bad luck, some men’s sperm have trouble making their way to, or fertilizing, an egg waiting in the fallopian tube. Some men may have a low sperm count, while others could have poor sperm motility. Couples can still get pregnant if a man has poor sperm quality, but the likelihood is reduced. A fertility specialist may be able to recommend a course of action for the best chance of conception.
Varicoceles are enlarged veins in the scrotum that raise the temperature of the testes, hindering sperm production. Because varicoceles can reduce sperm count or harm the quality of sperm produced, they make conception difficult. If the varicocele is severe enough, a fertility specialist might recommend surgery to cut the veins contributing to the varicocele. Surgery is relatively minor, and men recover fully within about a week.
Some men may have blockages in the vas deferens or epididymis, which can prevent healthy sperm from reaching and fertilizing the egg. A fertility specialist might recommend a surgical procedure to remove the obstruction. Men with blockages also generally have otherwise healthy sperm, meaning in vitro fertilization with one’s own sperm is entirely possible.
How can a fertility specialist help?
Fertility specialists are doctors who are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions of infertility. Whether through medical or surgical options, fertility specialists can help manage just about any condition of infertility.
- “Trouble Conceiving and Infertility.” Fertility Authority. Fertility Authority, n.d. Web.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Evaluating Infertility: FAQ136.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 6/12/2015. Web.
- “Endometriosis and Infertility: A Committee Opinion.” ASRM. American Society for Reproductive Medicine, 9/12/2015. Web.
- “Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).” American Diabetes Association. American Diabetes Association, 7/2/2014. Web.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Infertility – Definition.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 7/2/2014. Web.
- Jeffs B, Meeks JJ, Ito M, Martinson FA, Matzuk MM, Jameson JL, Russell LD. “Blockage of the rete testis and efferent ductules by ectopic Sertoli and Leydig cells causes infertility in Dax1-deficient male mice.” Endocrinology. 142(10):4486-95. Web. 10/1/2015.