|Table of Contents|
1. What is Infertility?
2. Why is Infertility Awareness Important?
3. Potential Causes of Infertility
4. Can I Do Infertility Testing?
5. Could Infertility Be Genetic?
The World Health Organization (WHO) encourages governments around the world to include infertility awareness in their health programs. Infertility awareness is important because infertility is a global health issue that impacts individuals and families around the world.
Many people choose to have children when the time feels right to become a parent. Many are excited to add more meaning to their lives and start this new chapter as parents. However, the road to pregnancy and childbirth is not linear or anywhere near as easy as many people think.
Today, WHO’s data suggests that 186 million reproductive-aged individuals and 48 million couples in their reproductive age grapple with infertility issues. Those numbers show that about 15% of couples in the world have trouble conceiving a child.
There are myriads of reasons for infertility, ranging from structural issues with the reproductive system such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or fallopian tube defects, to lifestyle factors such as excessive smoking or obesity.
The only way to address the problem if you’re struggling to conceive, is to stay informed, because the right knowledge arms you with the ability to address the root cause. Infertility awareness helps you make educated choices, and explore your various options such as freezing your eggs, artificial insemination, IVF, or adoption. Infertility is a serious issue, and infertility awareness helps you fight for your rights to access information regarding reproductive health. Learn more about infertility below:
What is Infertility?
Infertility, sometimes called sterility, is a disease affecting the female or male reproductive system. Infertility is generally the term used when a couple experiences failure to achieve conception after at least one year of trying, with regular unprotected sexual intercourse or sex with no birth control.
Infertility is not gender-specific and it can be a problem with either the male or female partner’s reproductive system. In some cases, it could be both man and woman facing reproductive issues.
There are two types of infertility, with the first being primary infertility (incapability of conceiving or having any pregnancy at all). The other is secondary infertility, or the failure to become pregnant again after a previous successful conception. Both types of infertility are just as frustrating to cope with.
Infertility issues can be devastating, especially if you’re ready to become a parent, and looking forward to that next chapter in your life.
Why is Infertility Awareness Important?
Infertility awareness is crucial to increase the spread of information on the numerous fertility problems that couples of reproductive age face across the globe, along with awareness of possible remedies or preventative measures.
Some couples aren’t even aware they have underlying health issues that make it hard for them to get pregnant. Public health initiatives and infertility awareness resources are essential in educating men and women about the most prevalent reasons for infertility, especially those that are preventable through lifestyle modification. For instance, excessive drug or alcohol use, smoking, and obesity could impact one’s fertility.
Learning about infertility also helps couples with family planning and planning their baby timeline. When it comes to reproduction, age is a significant factor, because the risk of infertility increases as you get older. One study showed that delaying parenthood could make it more difficult to conceive a child, including a higher risk of developing maternal health issues, complications in childbirth, and fetal problems. A woman is born with all the eggs she has in her lifetime i.e., 1-2 million eggs and the number of eggs keep decreasing each year. At age 30, she has an 85% chance of conceiving, and this drops to less than 45% chance of conceiving at age 40.
Similarly, men 40 years old and above have a lower sperm count, poorer sperm quality, and less sperm motility (how fast the sperm travels to fertilize an egg in the womb) than their younger counterparts. Unfortunately, research shows that men, even from highly developed nations across demographic groups, have poor knowledge of male infertility. In fact, it’s not uncommon for males to immediately think that the reason they cannot start a family is because there’s a problem with the woman’s fertility, which is not always the case. Both people in the relationship should get their fertility checked by a medical professional, or via screening for multiple blood tests.
Bear in mind that the sooner you address reproductive problems, the higher the chances of conception, especially if you intend to have more than one child or are more advanced in age. Notably, not all countries conduct infertility awareness programs nor provide reproductive support and sex education. In particular, developing countries, especially those that are extremely conservative and religious, do not incorporate sex education in their curriculum or public advertisements. As a result, some men and women may be unable to do proper reproductive planning because of misconceptions about sex and fertility.
Potential Causes of Infertility
After one year of trying to conceive without pregnancy, you and your partner face the issue of infertility. There is a broad range of factors that contribute to infertility. For women, it could be abnormal menstruation, blocked fallopian tubes, PCOs, uterine problems like endometriosis or polyps, or pelvic inflammatory disease.
For men, it could be a testicular problem, thyroid problem, testosterone issues, poor sperm count or motility, an injury that disrupts spermatogenesis (like physical injury, excessive heat in saunas or baths, or mumps), retrograde ejaculation, testicular cancer, or undescended testicles.
Both men and women are also exposed to certain risk factors that may affect fertility, resulting in possible structural issues and poor morphology or quality of eggs or sperm. Some of these factors may be a combination of the following:
- Age (over 40 for males and over 35 for females)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Substance abuse such as drug abuse
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Exposure to toxins like pesticides or lead
- Excessive stress
- Obesity or being extremely underweight
- Cancer treatments like chemo or radiation therapy
- Chronic diseases like cystic fibrosis or Cushing’s disease
- Certain medications like steroids
Contrary to popular belief, studies show that taking a hormonal birth control pill does not cause infertility. You also don’t reduce your chances of getting pregnant after you stop taking them. Birth control pills merely delay fertility and prevent unwanted pregnancy. Upon cessation of the pills, normal fertility levels are expected to return. Notably, pills are not without their side effects, so it is critical to understand them and what they could potentially do to your body.
Can I Do Infertility Testing?
If you’re planning to have children but you’re not in your twenties anymore, you might consider testing your fertility with a blood test. Many couples don’t even know they’re sterile, so infertility awareness is important to alert them of any issues that may arise so they could prepare themselves. ‘Letting nature take its course’ is not always the best approach in planning a pregnancy, because you could have something like endometriosis for females or poor sperm count for males.
It would be prudent to see a reproductive health specialist to test for the probability of infertility. For men, infertility tests usually include sperm and semen analysis, checking for structural anomalies which may include missing the vas deferens (sperm pipeline) or obstruction due to past surgeries, and blood testing for hormones to check for testosterone levels since they play a part in sperm production.
For women, one of the most common blood tests for fertility problems is the FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) test. It checks how much FSH a woman has as this triggers the ovaries to release an egg that gets fertilized each month. Low FSH could be a major sign of infertility in women. Other tests may include a pelvic exam, transvaginal ultrasound, hormonal blood tests, and laparoscopy.
A thorough physical, blood work, detailed evaluation of medical history, and other necessary tests may be done for both you and your partner to diagnose the problem. Several factors may contribute to infertility so a thorough assessment is conducted by a reproductive endocrinologist on both partners. From there treatments, solutions, and options are discussed so the couple can make a sound choice on what the next step will be to fulfill their dreams of starting a family.
Could Infertility Be Genetic?
If you’re wondering if infertility runs in families, you may be surprised to see conflicting reports. Some infertility clinics assert that family history is not a big factor in getting pregnant, while some studies attest that there could be a link between genes and infertility cases. Genetic factors could contribute to you and your partner’s ability to get pregnant.
For instance, medical conditions like PCOS and endometriosis in women could be passed down genetically. These health problems make it difficult for a woman to conceive because these health concerns affect the ovaries or uterus. Similarly, thyroid disease in men runs in families, and this could result in low sperm count, reduced testicle function, poor semen quality, reduced libido, and even erectile dysfunction.
If you or your partner are struggling to succeed in conceiving after many attempts, it would be prudent to consult with a reproductive endocrinologist or a gynecologist to find out the root cause of the problem. There could be several contributors to infertility. Taking a CircleDNA test can also give you information if you have any genetic predisposition for health conditions such as Deep Vein Thrombosis, Endometriosis, Hypothyroidism, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Male Infertility) which could impact your ability to get pregnant. Doing a DNA test also helps you and your partner find out if you’re both carriers of genetic mutations you could pass on or if it could affect your child.
- WHO Fact Sheet on Infertility (World Health Organization) https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infertility
- Knowledge about the impact of age on fertility: a brief review (Ilsa Delbaere, Sarah Verbiest, and Tanja Tyden) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7721003/
- Men’s knowledge of their own fertility: a population-based survey examining the awareness of factors that are associated with male infertility (D Daumler, P Chan, KC Lo, J Takefman, and P Zelkowitz) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27816924/
- Return of fertility after discontinuation of contraception: a systematic review and meta-analysis (Tadele Girum and Abebaw Wasie) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6055351/
- How Much of a Role Do Genes and Family History Play in Fertility? (TNFertility) https://tnfertility.com/blog/how-much-of-a-role-do-genes-and-family-history-play-in-fertility/
- The Genetics of Infertility: Current Status of the Field (Michelle Zorrilla and Alexander N Yatsenko) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3885174/