Infertility affects approximately 7.3 million people in America. Struggling to conceive can be emotionally exhausting, but working with healthcare professionals can help you identify an infertility diagnosis and treatment plan.
Causes of infertility
In men, there may be problems with sperm, including a low sperm count, poor sperm motility, or abnormal sperm. This may be due to medical conditions or treatments (including certain medications), genetic factors, or hormonal imbalance.
Likewise, many things can cause infertility in women . Some risk factors that may affect a woman’s fertility and egg condition include age, smoking and alcohol use, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases.
Other common causes of infertility in women include polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This is where the ovaries produce too much testosterone and ovulation may not occur. You may also contribute it to endometriosis, a condition where endometrial cells from the uterine lining grow in other areas, which can block an egg from its normal cycle. You could also have tubal blockages. This is where fallopian tubes get damaged and block egg movement. There may not be any additional symptoms beyond infertility. Lastly, you could have ovulation problems. These are usually hormone related and may stem from a variety of conditions, including hyperprolactinemia.
Fertility testing for women
The first step in fertility testing for women will involve a physical exam. Your doctor may then request a blood test to assess ovulation and possibly run some imaging tests to check the condition of your uterus and fallopian tubes. Your hormone levels may also be checked. Additionally, your partner will also undergo testing.
Fertility Treatment Options
One method of fertility treatment is in the form of fertility drugs, usually in the form of a pill or a shot. These drugs are used to encourage egg production and can be effective when your partner’s sperm is of lower quality. Fertility drugs have an approximate success rate of 40-50% and are lower in cost compared to other treatments. Fertility drugs do run the risk of side effects such as multiple births and premature delivery.
In vitro fertilization (IVF)
It sometimes sounds like science fiction, but in vitro fertilization (IVF) is the process of removing eggs and sperm and fertilizing the egg in a lab. Embryos develop, at which point the embryos are inserted into the uterus. Several embryos will likely be stored for potential future use.
This treatment is most useful for older women or women who have scarring or damage in the uterine area. It may also be an option for couples who experience spontaneous infertility. The success rate varies, and the woman will need to take fertility drugs. The process is also known to be physically demanding and can be prohibitively expensive for some couples, as treatment can cost thousands of dollars.
Also known as intrauterine insemination (IUI), this process involves inserting sperm directly into the uterus. This treatment may be appropriate if sperm is slow-moving of if your partner has a low sperm count. The chance of conception is about 15-20% with each cycle, but that chance increases after about six cycles. This may be used in conjunction with fertility drugs, which combined can potentially lead to multiple births. One of the benefits to this treatment is that it is relatively inexpensive and can be done in a doctor’s office.
Donor eggs or sperm
Some couples may choose to use donor eggs or donor sperm . Donor sperm is when another male’s sperm is used instead of the intended father, and this is also an option for lesbian couples. Sperm is inserted using IVF or IUI.
Similarly, couples can also receive donor eggs, usually from a younger woman. If a woman has had chemotherapy or radiation treatment or whose eggs have become damaged, then donor eggs may be the solution. The donor’s egg will be fertilized by the recipient’s partner’s sperm, and the embryos that result will then be implanted in the recipient’s uterus.
However, the process for receiving donor eggs is rigorous and can take a physical toll on both women involved. The recipient has to take drugs that can cause significant side effect, and the process is very expensive. Not only does the cost include IVF treatments, but the donor must also be compensated.
With donor sperm and donor eggs, the recipients may possibly feel uncomfortable using someone else’s genetic material than the intended parents.
In couples with some sort of documented abnormalities, such as blockages and scarring, surgery may possibly correct the issue. For example, women with endometriosis may have laparoscopic surgery to remove the excess uterine tissue that may block egg passage. Surgery may have the added benefit of alleviating any pain that may come with the disease or abnormality.
Some couples who have undergone IVF treatments may have embryos remaining. In some cases, these embryos may be donated and implanted in another recipient. Many couples do not choose to donate, which makes this a less viable option for some. There is also significant legal paperwork involved and treatment is expensive.
A surrogate will carry a baby on behalf of a couple. The surrogate could become pregnant through IUI or IVF with the couple’s embryo. Surrogacy is very expensive, but it can allow women to have a baby who cannot maintain a pregnancy.
Adoption is always an option if you have already explored other fertility treatments or if you do not want to go through the lengthy process of fertility treatments. Adoption is a lengthy process unto itself, but it avoids the situation of trying and not conceiving or trying and not having a successful pregnancy.
For more information
When you want to conceive and you are having difficulty after 12 months of attempts, it may be time to reach out to a healthcare professional who can help answer your fertility questions.
For more information, contact The Woman’s Clinic in Little Rock, Arkansas at 501-664-4131 to discuss fertility treatments.