Photo Credit: Bioedge.org
For young men and women all over the world, infertility is usually viewed as a big thorn in the flesh. I have heard someone refer to it during a group discussion, as the trouble with capital T. This is usually the case among young couples at the early stage of their courtship or marriage. It can break or mare a relationship especially in the third world countries. It can make couples go through tough times with many going against each other by apportioning of blames instead finding a solution together.
It is usually a do or die affair in most relationships. Some get involved in extra marital affairs just to have a baby, while some opt for adoption. Many uninformed individuals go on self-medication, treating an infection or an old infection they believe was not treated well with both prescription drugs and herbs (not that treating an infection is bad but self-medication is very bad and not advisable), instead of paying a visit to a fertility specialist for proper counseling, check-up, tests and diagnosis. Some change their lifestyle (a healthy lifestyle is usually helpful in most cases) while some believe their being overweight inhibited them from having a child, so they kill themselves ever so slowly in the gym on a daily basis by driving themselves to the limit, all in the name of losing those extra pounds.
According to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 10% of women (6.1 million) in the United States ages 15-44 have difficulty conceiving or staying pregnant. You can only imagine the number all over the world. It is true that untreated long term infections, obesity, unhealthy lifestyle, genetics, birth defects, certain medications and hard drugs, environmental toxins, alcohol abuse and some illnesses may contribute to one’s infertility problem, but seeing a fertility specialist (not just a gynecologist) could hasten the process of finding a viable solution to the problem. Let me help you understand what infertility is, causes of infertility in men and women, and next week, I will tell you about the possible treatment options.
WHAT IS INFERTILITY?
Infertility is not being able to get pregnant after a long period of time. This is usually after 1 year (or 6 months for women above 35 years) of trying to conceive but unable to do so. Women who can conceive but usually have early miscarriages may also be infertile.
Photo Credit: Stanfordchildrens.org
WHAT IS CONCEPTION OR PREGNANCY?
This occurs when a woman’s body releases an egg from one of her ovaries during what we call an ovulation. The egg then travels through her fallopian tube towards her womb (most times referred to as the uterus in medicine). A man’s sperm then swims to join with the egg, fertilizing it. The fertilized egg then attaches itself inside the womb (uterus). This process is called implantation.
When this process does not take place, or there is a problem in any of these paths leading to the completion of this process, it can lead to infertility.
DOES INFERTILITY ONLY OCCUR IN WOMEN?
- Infertility is not particular to any gender. It occurs in both men and women. Infertility usually have contributing factors from both a man and a woman. Unknown factors apart from the afore mentioned ones can also contribute to infertility.
CAUSES OF INFERTILITY IN WOMEN
- Ovulation problems: This is often caused by Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and is the most common cause of infertility. PCOS is a hormone imbalance problem which can interfere with a woman’s ovulation. Without ovulation, there are no eggs released by the woman that a man’s sperm will fertilize, leading to a pregnancy. Irregular menstruation or absence of a menstruation is often a common sign that a woman is not ovulating.
- Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI): This occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop working normally before the age of 40. Contrary to common misconceptions, this is not the same thing as early menopause.
- Blocked fallopian tubes: This occurs due to pelvic inflammatory diseases, endometriosis, or as a result of an ectopic pregnancy surgery.
- Uterine fibroids: These are non-cancerous clumps of tissue and muscles on the uterine wall.
- Physical problems or damages to the uterus due to multiple surgical abortions and other uterine traumas.
RISK FACTORS THAT AID INFERTILITY IN WOMEN
- Poor diet
- Anorexia and Obesity
- Alcohol abuse
- Severe athletic trainings
- Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI)
Photo Credit; Earthslab.com
CAUSES OF INFERTILITY IN MEN
- Movement of the sperm: Injuries and other damages due to trauma to the reproductive system may not only block the flow of the sperm, but also affect the shape of the sperm.
- Varicocele: This occurs when the testicles are heated up so often due to the large (extra-large) veins in the testicles of a man. This affects the number and shape of a man’s sperm.
- Genetic defects: Sometimes men are born with the problems that affect their sperm.
- Illnesses and injuries: Cystic fibrosis for example often cause infertility in men. Certain accidents or trauma to the reproductive system can also leer its head as a man gets older.
RISK FACTORS THAT AID INFERTILITY IN MEN
- Alcohol abuse
- Drug abuse
- Heavy/Chain smoking
- Illnesses like hormone imbalance, kidney disease, mumps etc
- Environmental factors/toxins like pesticides and heavy metals (example lead)
- Chemotherapy and radiation treatments
AGE AS A RISK FACTOR FOR WOMEN
Aging decreases a woman’s chances of having a baby especially from age 40 and above. Age 35 to 40 is also dicey. This is because;
- She has a small number of eggs left
- Her eggs are not as healthy as in her teens
- Her ovaries become less able to release eggs
- She is more likely to have a miscarriage
- She is more likely to have developed some health conditions that may lead to infertility
WHEN SHOULD A WOMAN SEE A FERTILITY SPECIALIST
- When she has irregular or no menstrual periods
- When she has very painful menstruations
- When she has endometriosis
- When she has pelvic inflammatory disease
- When has already had a miscarriage
It would be a wise decision for you as a young woman to talk to your doctor when trying to get pregnant. This does not apply to only when you notice some signs of infertility mentioned here. It will help you to follow your doctor’s directives with regards to preparing your body for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Your doctor has at least 98% answers to all the question you may want to ask before, during and after your pregnancy. Talk to an expert today. Don’t think, just act, NOW!