If you and your partner have been trying to conceive without success, it could be caused by infertility. There are many reasons why a woman may be unable to conceive a baby. About 40 percent of the issues are due to medical problems in the woman, 40 percent due to the man, and 20 percent of problems come from complications with both partners. Fortunately, many of these causes can be treated through medical intervention. This guide provides an overview of the primary reasons for infertility in both men and women.
Infertility in Women
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome - One of the most common causes of infertility in women is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). This condition is caused by a hormonal imbalance that interferes with a woman’s normal reproductive processes. It usually starts during puberty. Symptoms include irregular or absent menstrual periods, lack of ovulation, adult acne and abnormal hair growth.
Ovulation problems - Ovulation problems are another common cause of a woman being unable to conceive a baby. If a woman’s periods are absent, a condition called amenorrhea, there will be complete infertility. Ovarian failure is another ovulation cause, where there are no responsive eggs in the ovaries. Premature ovarian failure, a third ovulation problem, is the loss of normal ovarian function before age 40, where ovaries do not produce normal amounts of estrogen or have eggs release regularly.
Endometriosis - Endometriosis can cause relative infertility. This is a common condition in which the tissue-like lining of the uterus, the “endometrium”, grows outside the uterus instead of inside. This disturbs events essential to conception and the implantation of the embryo in the uterus, including affecting the function of the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes.
Fallopian tube problems - Fallopian tube problems also often lead to an inability to conceive. A blockage between the vagina and the ovary prevents fertilization. Fallopian tubes can be damaged or blocked, which makes it difficult for an egg to be fertilized or for an embryo to travel to the uterus.
Uterine fibroids - Uterine fibroids, another cause, are a common condition for women in their 30s and 40s. Fibroids are benign tumors in the wall of the uterus. A single cell divides repeatedly and creates a rubbery mass distinct from nearby tissue. They are believed to be caused by an irregularity in estrogen and progesterone. Fibroids may distort the uterine cavity, which can obstruct the implantation of a fertilized egg.
Tubal ligation - Previous tubal sterilization or removal also results in infertility. If you have undergone tubal ligation, a procedure where the fallopian tubes have been blocked or cut for permanent pregnancy prevention, you will be unable to conceive through normal means. Tubal ligation can be reversed, but it is often unsuccessful.
Uterus and Cervix Abnormalities - Abnormalities in the uterus or cervix also contribute to infertility. This includes problems with the opening of the cervix, cervical mucus, or abnormalities in the shape or cavity of the uterus. All these can lead to an inability to implant an embryo.
Infertility in Men
Sperm delivery problems - Problems with sperm delivery are some of the biggest causes of male infertility. These difficulties are often due to physical problems, such as semen entering the bladder during male orgasm instead of moving out of the penis, premature ejaculation, genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis; structural problems, such as a blockage of the area of the testicle that contains sperm; or damage received to the reproductive organs.
Sperm count - Abnormal sperm production or function is another significant cause. This can be due to various problems, including undescended testicles, health problems such as diabetes, genetic defects, or infections such as mumps. Sperm count can also be affected by variocele, enlarged veins in the testes that can increase blood flow and heat.
Environmental factors - Environmental factors can lead to male infertility as well. This includes overexposure to things such as pesticides and other chemicals, or radiation. Certain medications can also be the cause, such as anabolic steroids or marijuana. Frequent exposure to heat, such as in hot tubs or saunas, can elevate the core body temperature and impair sperm production.
Cancer - Cancer and cancer treatment can often lead to infertility, including radiation or chemotherapy. Treatment often impairs sperm production, and greatly decreases the chances of fertilization. Removing a testicle because of cancer may also affect fertility in a man.
IVF Specialist Co-director, IVF Unit, Assuta Medical Center, Tel-Aviv (one...
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