Overview of Infertility

Infertility is a disease of the female and/or male reproductive system that prevents the conception of a child or the ability to carry a pregnancy to delivery. It's typically defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse. However, if you're 35 or older, six months or less of unprotected intercourse may be reason enough to seek help, especially since fertility in women decreases with increasing age.

Infertility Facts

  • Infertility affects about 12 percent of the reproductive-age population.
  • In the average, reproductively healthy couple, there is an 18 percent chance of becoming pregnant per cycle.
  • By the age of 40, a woman's ability to become spontaneously pregnant per cycle decreases to 3 to 5 percent percent; by the age of 43, the chance drops to an estimated 1 to 2 percent.
  • In about 40 percent of infertile couples, the male partner is either the sole cause or a contributing cause of infertility.
  • Twenty-five percent of infertile couples have more than one factor that contributes to their infertility.
  • Irregular or abnormal ovulation accounts for about 25 percent of all female infertility problems.
  • In 85 to 90 percent of infertility cases, treatment focuses on basic medical therapies such as medication or surgical repair of reproductive organs.
  • Twelve percent of all infertility cases are a result of the woman either weighing too little or too much. (Fat cells produce estrogen. Too little or too much estrogen can impair ovulation.)
  • Women who smoke are more likely than non-smokers to experience ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, early menopause and genetic abnormalities in their eggs.
  • The risk of miscarriage is higher for pregnant women who smoke.
  • Men who smoke have lower sperm counts, decreased sperm motility and more abnormally shaped sperm than non-smokers.
  • If left untreated, chlamydia can cause infertility.

SOURCES: American Society for Reproductive Medicine; Achieving Families, November 2005, Vol. 3 No. 7

Reasons to Consult an Infertility Specialist

  • Failure to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse
  • Irregular menses
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Hormonal replacement
  • Excessive facial hair (hirsutism)
  • Ovulatory dysfunction
  • Perimenopausal complaints
  • Consecutive miscarriages
  • Gland dysfunction
  • Blocked or damaged fallopian tubes
  • Cervical mucus problems
  • Male factor infertility
  • Secondary infertility (inability to conceive after prior pregnancy and delivery)
  • Unexplained infertility
  • Advanced age
  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)