Infertility means not being able to get pregnant after one year of trying. Or, six months, if a woman is 35 years of age or older. Women who can get pregnant but are unable to stay pregnant may also be infertile.
Pregnancy is the result of a process that has many steps. To get pregnantâ€”
- A womanâ€™s body must release an egg from one of her ovariesÂ (ovulation).
- The egg must go through a fallopian tube toward the uterus (womb).
- A man’s sperm must join with (fertilize) the egg along the way.
- The fertilized egg must attach to the inside of the uterus (implantation).
Infertility can happen if there are problems with any of these steps.
Is infertility a common problem?
Yes. About 10 % of women (6.1 million) in the United States ages 15â€“44 years have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant.
Is infertility just a woman’s problem?
No, infertility is not always a woman’s problem. Both women and men can have problems that cause infertility. About one-third of infertility cases are caused by womenâ€™s problems. Another one third of fertility problems are due to the man. The other cases are caused by a mixture of male and female problems or by unknown problems.
What causes infertility in men?
Infertility in men is most often caused byâ€”
- A problem called varicocele (VAIR-ih-koh-seel). This happens when the veins on a manâ€™s testicle(s) are too large. This heats the testicles. The heat can affect the number or shape of the sperm.
- Other factors that cause a man to make too few sperm or none at all.
- Movement of the sperm. This may be caused by the shape of the sperm. Sometimes injuries or other damage to the reproductive system block the sperm.
Sometimes a man is born with the problems that affect his sperm. Other times problems start later in life due to illness or injury. For example, cystic fibrosis often causes infertility in men.
What increases a man’s risk of infertility?
A man’s sperm can be changed by his overall health and lifestyle. Some things that may reduce the health or number of sperm includeâ€”
- Heavy alcohol use
- Smoking cigarettes
- Environmental toxins, including pesticides and lead
- Health problems such as mumps, serious conditions like kidney disease, or hormone problems
- Radiation treatment and chemotherapy for cancer
What causes infertility in women?
Most cases of female infertility are caused by problems with ovulation. Without ovulation, there are no eggs to be fertilized. Some signs that a woman is not ovulating normally include irregular or absent menstrual periods.
Men SeekÂ Infertility Services
Many couples struggle with infertility and seek help to become pregnant; however, it is often thought of as only a womenâ€™s condition. But a CDC study analyzed data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, and found that 7.5% of all sexually experienced men reported a visit for help with having a child at some time during their lifetimeâ€”this equates to 3.3â€“4.7 million men. Of men who sought help, 18.1% were diagnosed with a male-related infertility problem, including sperm or semen problems (13.7%) and varicocele (5.9%).
Ovulation problems are often caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormone imbalance problem which can interfere with normal ovulation. PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility. Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) is another cause of ovulation problems. POI occurs when a womanâ€™s ovaries stop working normally before she is 40. POI is not the same as early menopause.
Less common causes of fertility problems in women includeâ€”
- Blocked fallopian tubes due to pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, or surgery for an ectopic pregnancy
- Physical problems with the uterus
- Uterine fibroids, which are non-cancerous clumps of tissue and muscle on the walls of the uterus
What things increase a woman’s risk of infertility?
Many things can change a woman’s ability to have a baby. These includeâ€”
- Excess alcohol use
- Poor diet
- Athletic training
- Being overweight or underweight
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Health problems that cause hormonal changes, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome and primary ovarian insufficiency
How does age affect a woman’s ability to have children?
Many women are waiting until their 30s and 40s to have children. In fact, about 20% of women in the United States now have their first child after age 35. So age is a growing cause of fertility problems. About one-third of couples in which the woman is older than 35 years have fertility problems.
Aging decreases a woman’s chances of having a baby in the following waysâ€”
- Her ovaries become less able to release eggs
- She has a smaller number of eggs left
- Her eggs are not as healthy
- She is more likely to have health conditions that can cause fertility problems
- She is more likely to have a miscarriage