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Houston Fertility Journal

Introduction to Infertility

[fa icon="calendar"] Mar 29, 2018 10:16:35 AM / by Center of Reproductive Medicine   

Center of Reproductive Medicine

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A subject no one really likes to talk about is infertility. It’s one of those taboo topics that can get really emotional for some people, and often leads to uncomfortable questions and thoughts. The truth of the matter however, is that anyone dealing with infertility is not alone. There shouldn’t be so much anxiety and fear about discussing a matter that affects so many people.

That’s why we thought it would be a good idea to create an introduction to infertility. In this post we’ll discuss things like:

  • The statistics of infertility that prove you’re not alone
  • The most common causes for men and women to be infertile
  • What you can do to improve your chances of conception
  • When you should seek help (it may be sooner than you think!)
  • The silliest things we’ve heard about the subject, and the truth about them

Let’s get started!

You’re not Alone

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Did you know that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7.3 million women aged 15-44 have used infertility services? According to their data, 12.1% of women in that age group at some point have had difficulty achieving pregnancy.

It’s not just women that are the “cause” of infertility either. It takes two to make a baby, after all. The National Center for Biotechnology Information reported, “Infertility affects an estimated 15% of couples globally, amounting to 48.5 million couples. Males are found to be solely responsible for 20-30% of infertility cases and contribute to 50% of cases overall.”

While in the heat of the struggle, it can feel like you are completely isolated. The reality is though, you’re not alone. These numbers might not even reflect the true statistics for how many people face infertility issue. This is because of how many people still feel like they are not supposed to talk about it, and as a result never tell anyone they are struggling.

Here’s the heartbreaking catch 22 - if people felt more comfortable discussing this issue, perhaps the causes of infertility could be found sooner for couples. By acting faster, it could lead to more successful pregnancies, and less time with the worry, stress, and anxiety related to the inability to get pregnant. But, what is it that causes infertility in the first place?

The Truth about the Causes of Infertility

As we said, infertility is not a solely female or male issue. Several factors in both sexes can contribute to a couple’s inability to get pregnant. It also could be a combination of these factors that are causing your unique struggle. Every case is different.

The most common reasons women struggle with getting pregnant:

  • Ovulation issues
  • Damage or blockage to the uterus or fallopian tubes
  • Problems or damage with the cervix
  • Thyroid issues
  • Tumors and cysts
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease and
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome

Common male infertility causes:

  • Low sperm count
  • Abnormal sperm motility (the ability for your sperm to move and be able to reach and/or penetrate an egg)
  • Varicocele (swelling of the veins that drain the testicle)
  • Blockage to the tubules that sperm moves through
  • Erectile dysfunction and other difficulties with sexual intercourse

Common causes of infertility in both sexes:

  • Imbalance of the hormones
  • Tumors/cysts
  • Other infections, diseases or cancer
  • Chromosome defects
  • Genetic diseases
  • Some medications
  • Prior surgeries
  • Unhealthy life choices

Is there Anything you can do to Improve your Odds of Pregnancy?

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Yes, there may be some things you can do that may help you in your journey of starting or expanding your family.

First, visit your primary care physician for a complete workup. Questions can cloud our minds when we decide we want to have a baby, but have trouble getting pregnant. Your best first step would be to check in with your general practitioner, and have a full physical exam. Be sure to have them do a complete blood panel as well. A blood panel can indicate things like:

  • Risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes
  • Your complete blood count
  • The function of your heart, liver and kidneys
  • Other diseases, disorders and even cancer

While a blood test and physical may not reveal the exact causes of your infertility, it will help your doctor learn more about your health, and potentially find many things that could be a problem. And, early detection of a variety of issues could be the difference between lengthy solutions, and quick fixes.

Work on getting healthier too. What does that mean exactly? This can be a vague subject, but here are a few things you should do to improve your physical health overall:

  • If you are drinking in excess, cut back or stop completely.
    • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism “defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours...For women, low-risk drinking is defined as no more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week. For men, it is defined as no more than 4 drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week.”
    • Men who are drinking in excess can have lower sperm count and lower sperm motility.
    • Alcohol consumption in women can impair egg health and libido, and can depress the adrenal glands. Prolonged alcohol abuse can cause hormonal imbalances, and disrupt ovulation and menstrual cycles.
  • Depending on where you’re at now, you may need to lose or gain weight.
    • Women who are underweight can have complications with their menstrual cycle, and men who are underweight struggle with lowered sperm quality.
    • Underweight is defined as having a BMI less than 18.5
    • A healthy weight is a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9
    • Overweight is defined as having a BMI between 25 and 29.9, and a BMI higher than 30 is considered obese.
    • Women and men who are overweight can struggle with diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and more. Men who are overweight can additionally struggle with low sperm motility, lowered libido, and inability to ejaculate.
  • Change your diet. While some people believe eating certain foods can get you pregnant, we’re focusing more on getting to and maintaining a healthy weight, as well as consuming plenty of vitamins and nutrients.
    • You should be consuming fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. Think leafy greens, and fruits that are high in fiber and low in sugar.
    • A good diet also consists of whole grains, lean proteins, dairy, and healthy fats.
  • Start exercising. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, adults should “Try to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity on most days. Aerobic activities include walking fast, jogging, swimming, and biking. Also, do strengthening activities twice per week. Strengthening activities include lifting weights, working with exercise bands, and doing sit-ups and pushups.”
  • Increase your water intake. Water flushes toxins, and rehydrates the body.
  • Stop smoking. Did you know that smoking can reduce your chances of achieving pregnancy by as much as 50%? This includes secondhand smoke as well.
  • Discontinue use of illicit drugs. These substances can wreak havoc on a woman’s ovulation and a man’s sperm quality and quantity.

How Soon should you Seek Help?

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If you are a woman of reproductive age, younger than 35, and have been trying for more than a year - it may be time to see an infertility specialist. If however, you’re over 35, and have been trying for more than six months, it may be time to go ahead and book an appointment.

Women who are 35 or older and having a hard time getting pregnant need to seek help sooner, because fertility is age discriminant. As Your Fertility says, “At 30, the chance of conceiving each month is about 20%. At 40 it’s around 5%.” This continues to decline as you continue to age.

The older you get, the higher the likelihood for complications for both mom and baby as well. Moms 35 and older face higher risks of birth complications and the need for caesarean section. Babies face higher chances of birth defects, and genetic abnormalities.  

The reason for this risk to the mother and potential child is that as women age, their egg quality declines. Add to that the fact that she has less eggs to work with as she gets older, and it’s a perfect storm for problems conceiving.

If you have had three or more miscarriages, or three or more abortions, it’s also a good idea to not wait on seeing a fertility doctor. Don’t hesitate to seek help if you have any genetic disorders, hormonal imbalances or a history of medical conditions.

The phrase “your biological clock is ticking” isn’t just something your mother pushes on you because she wants you to give her grandchildren sooner. There is in fact a clock on your chances of conceiving, and it’s better to seek help sooner than later.

Wild and Crazy Assumptions about Fertility

While a biological clock does exist, there are a lot of silly things being spread online that are either completely false, or only tell part of the story. Read on to see if you’ve heard some of these tales being spun on the web:

If you took birth control for too long, you’ll never get pregnant

According to an Oxford University study about oral contraceptive (OC) usage, they reported that “Although OC use was associated with a transient delay in the return of fertility, we found no evidence that long-term OC use deleteriously affects fecundability.”

Fecundability is “The probability of a woman or female animal conceiving within a given period of time, especially during a specific month or menstrual cycle.”

However, don’t assume that you can quit the pill or patch, and get pregnant right away. Many experts agree, at a minimum, you should wait until the full completion of a normal menstrual cycle before trying to conceive.  

Once you adopt a baby, you’ll get pregnant

Not only is this false, it could be detrimental to a family mentally, emotionally, and if we’re being completely honest, financially. We’re not sure where this silly belief began, but adopting a child has absolutely no impact on your physical body’s ability to get pregnant.

A bottle of cough syrup is the answer to your conception woes

In the 1980s some people believed that the ingredient guaifenesin in cough syrup, was a fertility booster. There is no scientific proof to back up this claim, however.

Yams will not only get you pregnant, they’ll give you twins

While yams have been said to give some women a libido boost, there is no scientific evidence you can get pregnant, let alone have twins, from consuming an abundance of them. There is a tribe in Nigeria that has a high rate of fraternal twins, and they do eat a lot of yams. Still, to say yams is the cause for this tribe to have twins is faulty reasoning.

Only have sex when you’re in the mood, and you’ll conceive

Regardless of when you’re in the mood, if a woman is not ovulating, conception can not take place. Furthermore, if there are other factors impeding the fertility of her or a male partner, the likelihood of conceiving decreases.

Stop drinking coffee and get more sleep to have a baby

While leading a healthier lifestyle can have an impact on your ability to conceive, the studies are inconclusive on the direct relation of fertility to caffeine and getting more sleep.

The same goes for the old belief that the stressed can’t get pregnant. “Calm down and it will happen,” is faulty advice. While remaining calm can help things like blood pressure and your health overall, again there is no scientific proof of a direct relation to fertility.

If a woman doesn’t orgasm, it means no baby

Again, not true. When trying to have a baby via sexual intercourse a male does need to ejaculate sperm into the vaginal canal for there to be any hope of that sperm reaching an egg. On the other hand, there is no evidence that a woman must have an orgasm for conception to occur.

The Myths are Aplenty, but here’s some Real Talk

The best laid plans for conception may still fail, and it might be by no fault of you or your partner. Are there things you can do to help make yourself healthier, that could also make your body better prepared to have a baby? Yes, but even women who are otherwise healthy may struggle to conceive.

Guessing games and placing blame won’t do anybody any good. Your best bet if you are facing difficulties with conception, is to see a doctor who specializes in infertility. Wouldn’t it be better to get to the heart of the matter, instead of worrying and pondering the what ifs? If you would like to learn more about working with the Center of Reproductive Medicine, click here.

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