Anyone can suffer from infertility. To be considered infertile, you must be unable to conceive after having unprotected sex regularly for approximately one year.
However, depending on your age and circumstances, inability to conceive a child with your spouse after six months may indicate that at least one of you is infertile.
According to the Mayo Clinic, infertility affects approximately 10 to 15 percent of American couples. It is often difficult to self-diagnose infertility because the main symptom is the inability to conceive. You and your spouse may assume the problem is temporary and keep trying natural conception. However, if you are infertile, there may be other presenting symptoms.
For example, if you are male, you may have changes in hair growth that accompany infertility, indicating a hormonal problem. If you are female, you may experience missed menstrual periods. Identifying the reason for your infertility can help you treat it in some cases. Of the many reasons for infertility in women and men, the following four are among the most common.
If you are male, low sperm count may be the cause of your infertility. The normal amount of semen to produce per ejaculation is about 1.5 milliliters or half a teaspoon. Each milliliter of semen typically contains approximately 15 million sperm. If your sperm count is low, you may have difficulty conceiving. A doctor can perform a semen analysis to check your sperm count. He or she can also analyze other aspects of your fertility from analyzing your semen, including:
Some genetic conditions can cause you to have a low sperm count, including Klinefelter’s syndrome. Glandular or hormonal problems can also prevent or reduce sperm production. For example, if your pituitary gland produces too much of a hormone called prolactin, you may have a low sperm count. One of the potential causes of such a problem is a pituitary gland tumor.
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Finally, a physical condition called varicoceles may also reduce your sperm count. It causes the veins in the testicles to enlarge and heat up. The sperm you do produce may also be damaged by the condition.
Another cause of your infertility, if you are male, may be poor sperm movement. Your sperm must be able to travel to the uterus of your partner for fertilization to occur. Sperm movement is called motility. Not all sperm have the same motility. In fact, it is normal for some of your sperm to be inactive. At least half of your sperm must be active for normal semen analysis test results. If your sperm is less active, it is a sign of an underlying medical condition causing infertility.
The shape of your sperm, called morphology, can also indicate a fertility problem. If your sperm is too large, it cannot fertilize an egg properly. Abnormally shaped sperm may also not be able to fertilize an egg. However, even normal semen contains abnormally shaped sperm. In order to be considered infertile, a morphology analysis would have to show less than 4 percent normally shaped sperm.
Varicoceles are one of the most common causes of sperm shape or size abnormalities, but sperm morphology can also be affected by conditions like:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), disorders disrupting ovulation or menstrual cycles may be the root of your infertility problems if you are female. You are born with a certain number of eggs in your ovaries. With each menstrual cycle, your egg supply is slowly depleted. When you have few eggs left, it is called diminished ovarian reserve. When you have no eggs left at all, you stop menstruating and enter menopause. Therefore, your age plays a large role in your ability to conceive naturally.
Gland malfunctions can also cause you to experience ovulation problems. Your pituitary gland and hypothalamus produce and control the hormones that cause ovulation. If the production of certain hormones is too high, you will not ovulate. This imbalance may occur due to a benign glandular tumor or other conditions.
You may also cease ovulating due to certain medical conditions. For example, functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA) causes irregular ovulation. It may occur when you exercise excessively or are underweight. If you have an eating disorder, you are at higher risk for FHA. It can also develop due to stress.
If you are female, your infertility may be caused by a problem with your fallopian tubes. If your fallopian tubes are obstructed, eggs may be unable to get to your uterus, preventing fertilization. They may become partially or fully blocked by endometriosis, which is a condition where uterine tissue grows outside your uterus. Inflammation of the fallopian tubes can also occur if you have suffered from infections or certain sexually transmitted infections. Scar tissue is another potential cause of blocked fallopian tubes.
Uterine abnormalities may also make it difficult for an egg to implant or a fetus to grow in your uterus. For example, your uterus may be abnormally shaped, or you may have uterine fibroids. This condition is characterized by a benign uterine wall tumor capable of blocking eggs from implanting in your uterus. On rare occasions, it can also block the entrances to your fallopian tubes, preventing eggs from entering your uterus.
Similar to fibroids, uterine polyps also make egg implantation difficult. Rather than growing in the uterine wall like fibroids, polyps protrude from it. They can also break off and exit your uterus through your cervix, causing abnormal bleeding. Uterine polyps vary in size. It is possible to have one or several at a time. Obesity and high blood pressure can increase your chances of developing uterine polyps. A breast cancer medication called tamoxifen can also cause these polyps.
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