Most experts define infertility as not being able to get pregnant after at least one year of trying.
Pregnancy is the result of a complex chain of events. In order to get pregnant:
About 10.9% of women (6.7 million) in the U.S. ages 15 to 44 had difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term from 2006 to 2010, according to the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
No, infertility is not always a woman’s problem. In only about one-third of cases is infertility due to the woman (female factors). In another one-third of cases, infertility is due to the man (male factors). The remaining cases are caused by a mixture of male and female factors or by unknown factors.
The number and quality of a man’s sperm can be affected by his overall health and lifestyle. Some things that may reduce sperm number and/or quality include:
Aging lowers a woman's chances of having a baby because:
Most healthy women under the age of 30 shouldn’t worry about infertility unless they’ve been trying to get pregnant for at least a year. At that point, women should talk to their doctors about a fertility evaluation. Men should also talk to their doctors if this much time has passed.
In some cases, women should talk to their doctors sooner. Women in their 30s who’ve been trying to get pregnant for 6 months should speak to their doctors. A woman’s chances of having a baby decrease rapidly every year after the age of 35. So getting a complete and timely fertility evaluation is especially important.
No matter how old you are, it’s always a good idea to talk to a doctor before you start trying to get pregnant. Doctors can help you prepare your body for a healthy baby. They can also answer questions on fertility and give tips on conceiving.
Finding the cause of infertility can be a long, complex and emotional process. It can take months to complete all the needed exams and tests. So don’t be concerned if the problem isn’t found right away.
For a man, doctors usually begin by testing his semen. They look at the number, shape and movement of the sperm. Sometimes doctors also suggest testing the level of a man's hormones.
For a woman, the first step in testing is to find out if she is ovulating each month. There are several ways to do this. A woman can track her ovulation at home using a home ovulation test kit. (available at drug or grocery stores)
Doctors can also check if a woman is ovulating by doing blood tests and an ultrasound of her ovaries. If the woman is ovulating normally, more tests are needed.
Some common tests of fertility in women include:
Infertility can be treated with medicine, surgery, artificial insemination or assisted reproductive technology (ART). Many times these treatments are combined. About two-thirds of couples who are treated for infertility are able to have a baby.
Doctors recommend specific treatments for infertility based on:
Doctors often treat infertility in men in the following ways:
Intrauterine insemination (IUI, or artificial insemination) is another type of treatment for infertility. In this procedure, the woman is injected, into her uterus through the cervix, specially prepared sperm. Sometimes the woman is also treated with medicines that stimulate ovulation before IUI. IUI is often used to treat:
Assisted reproductive technology (ART) is a term that describes several different methods used to help infertile couples. ART involves removing eggs from a woman’s body, mixing them with sperm in the laboratory and putting the embryos back into a woman’s body.