If you and your partner are struggling to have a baby, you’re not alone. In the United States, 10% to 15% of couples are infertile. Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant despite having frequent, unprotected sex for at least a year for most couples.
Infertility may result from an issue with either you or your partner, or a combination of factors that prevent pregnancy. Fortunately, there are many safe and effective therapies that significantly improve your chances of getting pregnant.
The inability to conceive is the primary symptom of infertility. There might be no other clear side effects. Women with infertility may experience irregular or absent periods from time to time. Men experiencing infertility may exhibit signs of hormonal issues, such as changes in hair growth or sexual function, in some instances.
When to see a doctor
You probably don’t need to see your healthcare provider about infertility unless you have been trying regularly to get pregnant for at least one year. Women should talk with a care provider earlier, however, if they:
- Are age 35 or older and have been trying to conceive for six months or longer
- Are over age 40
- Have irregular or absent periods
- Have very painful periods
- Have known fertility problems
Causes of male infertility
- Abnormal sperm production or function because of undescended gonads, hereditary imperfections, medical conditions like diabetes, or contaminations like chlamydia, gonorrhea, mumps or HIV.
- Damage related to cancer and its treatment, including radiation or chemotherapy. Treatment for cancer can impair sperm production, sometimes severely.
- Overexposure to certain environmental factors, such as pesticides and other chemicals, and radiation. Cigarette smoking, alcohol, marijuana, anabolic steroids, and taking medications to treat bacterial infections, high blood pressure and depression also can affect fertility
Causes of female infertility
- Ovulation disorders, which affect the release of eggs from the ovaries. These include hormonal disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome.
- Uterine or cervical abnormalities, including abnormalities with the cervix, polyps in the uterus, or the shape of the uterus. Noncancerous (benign) tumors in the uterine wall (uterine fibroids) may cause infertility
- Endometriosis, which occurs when endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus, may affect the function of the ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes.
Some types of infertility aren’t preventable. But several strategies may increase your chances of pregnancy.
Although most types of infertility aren’t preventable in men, these strategies may help:
- Avoid drug and tobacco use and drink too much alcohol, which may contribute to male infertility.
- Avoid high temperatures found in hot tubs and hot baths, as they can temporarily affect sperm production and motility.
- Avoid exposure to industrial or environmental toxins, which can affect sperm production.
For women, a number of strategies may increase the chances of becoming pregnant:
- Quit smoking. Tobacco has many negative effects on fertility, not to mention your general health and the health of a fetus. If you smoke and are considering pregnancy, quit now.
- Avoid alcohol and street drugs. These substances may impair your ability to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy
- Exercise moderately. Regular exercise is important, but exercising so intensely that your periods are infrequent or absent can affect fertility.