infertility
By Okbima 01 Jun 2024

Infertility: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Test, Treatment & Prevention

 

Infertility is a common reproductive health issue that affects millions of couples worldwide. There are various types of infertility, including female infertility, male infertility, unexplained infertility, etc. Symptoms of infertility include irregular menstrual cycles, hormonal imbalances, and issues with sperm production. Let’s understand the cause, diagnosis, tests, treatment & prevention of infertility.

 

 What Is Infertility?

Infertility meaning is the inability to conceive a child after one year of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse. It can affect both men and women and may be caused by various factors such as hormonal imbalances, reproductive organ abnormalities, genetic disorders, age, lifestyle factors, and certain medical conditions. Infertility can be a stressful and emotional experience for individuals and couples who are struggling to conceive a child.

 

Types Of Infertility

There are so many types of infertility such as primary infertility, secondary infertility, male infertility, female infertility, unexplained infertility, age-related infertility, etc.

  • Primary infertility: This happens when a couple has never been able to conceive a child despite trying for at least one year.

  • Secondary infertility: This happens when a couple has previously been able to conceive a child, but is now unable to do so after trying for at least one year.

  • Male infertility: This happens when the man is unable to produce healthy sperm that can fertilize the egg. Causes of male infertility include low sperm count, abnormal sperm shape, and impaired sperm motility.

  • Female infertility: This happens when the woman is unable to conceive due to issues with ovulation, blocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis, or other reproductive health issues.

  • Unexplained infertility: In some cases, doctors are unable to determine the cause of infertility despite extensive testing and evaluation.

  • Age-related infertility: As women age, their fertility declines due to a decrease in the number and quality of eggs.

  • Lifestyle-related infertility: Factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, and poor diet can cause infertility in both men and women.

  • Structural infertility: Structural issues in the reproductive organs, such as uterine fibroids, polyps, or scarring, can prevent fertilization or implantation of the embryo.

  • Hormonal infertility: Imbalances in hormones, such as thyroid disorders, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or high levels of prolactin, can affect ovulation and fertility.

  • Genetic infertility: In some cases, infertility may be due to genetic factors that affect the reproductive organs or the ability to conceive.

 

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Infertility Symptoms

The main symptom of infertility is not getting pregnant after one year of trying to conceive (or six months if the woman is 35 or older). There may be no other clear symptoms. However, some women with infertility may experience irregular menstrual periods or no periods at all. Men might experience changes in hair growth or sexual function if they have hormonal problems.

Women

  • Irregular periods: A menstrual cycle that's too long (35 days or more), too short (less than 21 days), or irregular can mean that you're not ovulating.

  • Painful periods: Back pain, pelvic pain, and cramping during periods may be a sign of endometriosis or uterine fibroids.

  • Heavy or light bleeding: Heavy or light menstrual bleeding can be a sign of an underlying condition.

  • Skin changes and hormonal imbalances: Conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can cause acne, changes in sex drive, and abnormal hair growth on the face or body.

 Men

  • Low sperm count or poor quality sperm: This can be indicated by low volume of ejaculation, difficulty maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction), or painful testicles.

  • Small testicles or problems with ejaculation: These could be signs of hormonal imbalances or blockages in the reproductive system.

  • History of testicular or other health conditions: Past surgeries, infections, or chronic illnesses can impact fertility.

 

 Causes Of Infertility

Infertility can be caused by many factors affecting either men or women and sometimes both. Here are some common causes.

Female Infertility

  • Ovulation disorders: When ovulation doesn't happen regularly or the eggs released aren't healthy, conception becomes difficult. Conditions like PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) can contribute to this.

  • Blocked fallopian tubes: Blockages can prevent sperm from reaching the egg or a fertilized egg to the uterus. This can be caused by scar tissue from pelvic surgery or infections.

  • Uterine fibroids: These are benign tumors that grow in the uterus and can interfere with implantation or cause miscarriage.

Male Infertility

  • Low sperm count or poor quality sperm: This can be due to various factors like varicoceles (enlarged veins in the scrotum), hormonal imbalances, infections, or genetic problems.

  • Blockages in the reproductive system: Blockages can prevent sperm from being ejaculated or reaching the egg. This can be caused by infections, cysts, or prior surgeries.

  • Undescended testicles: If one or both testicles don't descend into the scrotum during development, sperm production can be impaired.

 

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Diagnosis And Tests Of Infertility

When doctors want to find out why a person is having trouble getting pregnant, they usually check their hormone levels, do some scans, and test the sperm to see if any problems could be causing the issue.

  • Medical history and physical examination: The healthcare provider will review the medical history of both partners, including any past illnesses, surgeries, medications, and lifestyle factors that can cause infertility.

  • Semen analysis: A semen analysis is a test that evaluates the quality and quantity of a man's sperm. This test can help determine if there are any issues with sperm production, motility, or morphology that could cause infertility.

  • Ovulation evaluation: For women, tests may be conducted to confirm ovulation, such as tracking basal body temperature, using ovulation predictor kits, or performing blood tests to measure hormone levels associated with ovulation.

  • Hysterosalpingography (HSG): This test involves injecting a dye into the uterus and fallopian tubes to check for blockages or abnormalities that could be preventing pregnancy.

  • Hormone testing: Blood tests may be conducted to measure hormone levels such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), estradiol, progesterone, and thyroid hormones to assess ovulation and reproductive function.

  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound may be performed to evaluate the reproductive organs and check for any abnormalities such as fibroids or ovarian cysts.

  • Genetic testing: In some cases, genetic testing may be recommended to check for genetic abnormalities that could be affecting fertility.

  • Laparoscopy: In some cases, an invasive surgical procedure called laparoscopy may be performed to visually inspect the reproductive organs and check for any abnormalities such as endometriosis or pelvic adhesions.

 

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Infertility Treatment

Infertility can be treated in many ways, depending on the underlying cause. Some common treatments include medications, surgery, assisted reproductive technologies (ART), etc.

  • Medications: Fertility drugs may be prescribed to help regulate ovulation or improve sperm production.

  • Surgery: In some cases, surgical procedures may be used to correct anatomical issues that are causing infertility.

  • Assisted reproductive technologies (ART): This includes procedures such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), where eggs are fertilized outside the body and then implanted in the uterus.

  • Donor eggs or sperm: In cases where eggs or sperm are not viable, donor eggs or sperm may be used.

  • Lifestyle changes: Making changes to your diet, exercise routine, and overall lifestyle may also help improve fertility.

 

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Prevention Of Infertility

Infertility can be a complex issue with many causes, but there are some steps you can take to help prevent infertility or increase your chances of conceiving.

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight can help improve your overall health and fertility.

  • Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption: Excessive alcohol and caffeine intake can negatively impact fertility, so it's important to moderate your consumption.

  • Avoid smoking: Smoking can hurt fertility in both men and women, so it's best to quit smoking if you're trying to conceive.

  • Practice safe sex: Sexually transmitted infections can cause infertility, so it's important to practice safe sex and get tested regularly.

  • Manage stress: Chronic stress can affect fertility, so finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercise, meditation, or therapy, can help improve your chances of conceiving.

 

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Conclusion

In conclusion, infertility is a significant reproductive health issue that affects many couples around the world. Understanding the various types of infertility, symptoms, causes, diagnosis, tests, treatments, and prevention methods is crucial for individuals and couples struggling to conceive. Seeking medical advice and support, making lifestyle changes, and exploring different treatment options can help improve fertility and increase the chances of conceiving a child.

 

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