The Facts About Infertility

Learn the facts about infertility in both males and females, and find out how a fertility specialist may help you.
Facts About Infertility

In this article, you will find:

Male and female fertility issues

Although the process of sperm-meets-egg is natural and easy for most couples, some couples who want to conceive a child struggle with infertility. According to the National Institutes of Health, 9 percent of men and 11 percent of women of reproductive age have struggled with fertility problems.

Medical Reasons for Infertility in Females

In many cases the cause of infertility in females is rooted in a treatable medical condition. The top two reasons for female infertility are (1) tubal factors (such as damaged fallopian tubes) and (2) ovulatory disorders (such as an irregular or absent menstrual cycle). A smaller percentage of women suffer from endometriosis (a condition in which tissue from inside the uterus grows outside the uterus), which can cause infertility if left untreated.

Some women who do get pregnant but then repeatedly miscarry the baby might also have a medical problem that can be corrected. Similar to other types of infertility, repeat miscarriages might be caused by hormonal problems, ovulatory problems or structural problems in which the uterus won't support a pregnancy. In a few rare cases, an abnormality of the chromosomes might be the cause. But unfortunately, in the majority of cases, the reason for repeat miscarriages is unknown.

More: Coping With Miscarriage

Infertility Reasons for Women

Reasons for Infertility in Males

Infertility in males is due to problems with their sperm. The number of sperm might be low (viability), the sperm might be abnormally shaped (morphology), or the sperm might move too slowly or sluggishly (motility).

Although the causes of these problems are many and varied, the most common reasons are as follows:

  • Varicocele, or varicose veins of the testicles, cause a dilation of the veins and an increased volume of blood in the testicles. Blood retained around the testes leads to an increase in temperature, which can damage sperm, causing low sperm counts and misshaped sperm. It might also interfere with testosterone levels.
  • Infections in the reproductive organs can cause reduced sperm production. Sometimes it's only a temporary reduction and can be treated with antibiotics before any physical damage occurs; other times the damage is permanent. Some infections are caused by various venereal diseases, especially gonorrhea, which can scar the delicate tubes through which sperm are transported. Tuberculosis or mumps might also invade the reproductive organs and cause physical damage. Viral diseases such as mononucleosis and hepatitis and any other illness that causes a persistent high fever can temporarily but dramatically depress sperm production.
  • Anatomical problems can make it difficult or impossible for sperm to do their job. These include irregularities in the male reproductive system that either prevent the testicles from producing sperm or block the sperm from being ejaculated.
  • Hormonal factors can cause an imbalance of "sex" hormones that can result in a number of infertility problems in a male.
  • Other factors include the side effects of testicular cancer treatment, a hypothalamic or pituitary disorder, problems with the cells that produce sperm, the inability to effectively reverse a vasectomy and age (yes, the count and quality of a man's sperm can decline as he gets older).