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Infertility Symptoms, Signs, Causes and Treatments

Infertility is a deeply personal and often challenging issue that affects millions of men and women worldwide. It is defined as the inability to conceive after a year of regular unprotected intercourse. Infertility can have a profound impact on individuals and couples, causing emotional distress, strain on relationships, and feelings of inadequacy. Both men and women can experience infertility, and it is important to understand the causes, symptoms, and available treatments to navigate this difficult journey.

By Able Health I Medically reviewed by Dr. Alireza Estedlal

Page last reviewed: February 2024 I Next review due: February 2026

Summary

  • Infertility affects both men and women and can be caused by a variety of factors.
  • Common symptoms of infertility in women include irregular periods, pain during sex, and hormonal imbalances.
  • Male infertility can be indicated by low sperm count, erectile dysfunction, and testicular pain.
  • Age can have a significant impact on fertility, with women experiencing a decline in fertility after age 35 and men after age 40.
  • Infertility treatments for both men and women include options such as IVF, IUI, and alternative therapies like acupuncture and herbal remedies.

Understanding Infertility: What is it and How Does it Affect Men and Women?

Infertility is a complex issue that can arise from various factors. For women, infertility can be caused by ovulation disorders, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or other underlying health conditions. In men, low sperm count, abnormal sperm shape or movement, erectile dysfunction, or hormonal imbalances can contribute to infertility. It is crucial to recognise that infertility affects both men and women equally, and it is not solely a female problem.

Statistics on infertility rates are staggering. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 15% of couples worldwide experience infertility. In the United Kingdom alone, one in seven couples struggle with fertility issues. These numbers highlight the importance of understanding infertility and seeking appropriate support and treatment.

Common Symptoms of Infertility in Women: What to Look Out For

Recognising the symptoms of infertility in women is essential for early detection and intervention.

  • Irregular periods, characterised by cycles that are shorter or longer than the average 28 days, can indicate potential fertility issues.
  • Painful periods, known as dysmenorrhea, can also be a sign of underlying problems.
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge or pain during sex may suggest an infection or other reproductive health concerns.

Other symptoms, such as excessive hair growth or weight gain, may be associated with conditions like PCOS.

Male Infertility: Signs and Symptoms to Watch for

Male infertility can manifest through following signs and symptoms.

  • Low sperm count: Less than 15 million sperm per millilitre of semen
  • Abnormal sperm shape: Sperm with an unusual shape or size
  • Low sperm motility: Sperm that don't swim well or move in a straight line
  • Erectile dysfunction: Difficulty getting or maintaining an erection
  • Pain or swelling in the testicles: Discomfort or inflammation in the testicles
  • Decreased facial or body hair: Less hair growth than usual

Age and Infertility: How Age Affects Fertility in Men and Women

Age plays a significant role in fertility for both men and women. As women age, their ovarian reserve decreases, resulting in a decline in the quantity and quality of eggs. This makes it more difficult to conceive and increases the risk of miscarriage. Men also experience a decline in fertility as they age, with a decrease in sperm count and motility. Studies have shown that men over the age of 40 are more likely to have children with genetic abnormalities. Understanding the impact of age on fertility is crucial for individuals and couples planning to start a family.

Causes of Infertility in Women: Understanding the Factors that Affect Fertility

Infertility in women can be caused by various factors. Ovulation disorders, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or hormonal imbalances, can disrupt the regular release of eggs necessary for conception. Endometriosis, a condition where the tissue lining the uterus grows outside of it, can lead to scarring and blockage of the fallopian tubes. Other factors, such as uterine fibroids or structural abnormalities, can also contribute to infertility. It is important for women experiencing difficulties conceiving to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the underlying cause.

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Causes of Infertility in Men: What You Need to Know

Male infertility can be caused by a variety of factors. Low sperm count, or oligospermia, can result from hormonal imbalances, genetic disorders, or lifestyle factors such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption. Abnormal sperm shape or movement, known as teratozoospermia and asthenozoospermia, respectively, can also contribute to infertility. Erectile dysfunction, often caused by underlying health conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, can affect a man's ability to conceive. Understanding the potential causes of male infertility is crucial for diagnosis and treatment.

Lifestyle Factors and Infertility: How Your Habits Can Affect Your Fertility

Lifestyle factors can significantly impact fertility in both men and women. Smoking has been linked to decreased fertility in both sexes, as it can damage sperm DNA and affect egg quality. Excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt hormone levels and impair reproductive function. Drug use, including recreational drugs and certain medications, can also have detrimental effects on fertility. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, and stress management can positively influence fertility outcomes.

Medical Conditions and Infertility: Understanding the Link

Certain medical conditions can contribute to infertility in both men and women. For women, cancer and cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy can damage the reproductive organs and affect fertility. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), leading to scarring and blockage of the fallopian tubes. In men, conditions such as testicular cancer or undescended testicles can impact fertility. It is important for individuals with these medical conditions to discuss fertility preservation options with their healthcare providers.

Fertility Testing: What to Expect and How to Prepare

Fertility testing is an essential step in diagnosing the underlying causes of infertility. For women, tests may include blood work to assess hormone levels, ultrasound scans to evaluate the reproductive organs, and hysterosalpingography to check for blockages in the fallopian tubes. Men may undergo semen analysis to assess sperm count, motility, and morphology. It is important to prepare for fertility testing by discussing any concerns or questions with the healthcare provider and following any instructions provided.

Infertility Treatments for Women: Options and Success Rates

There are various treatment options available for women experiencing infertility. Fertility drugs, such as clomiphene citrate or gonadotropins, can stimulate ovulation and increase the chances of conception. Intrauterine insemination (IUI) involves placing sperm directly into the uterus during ovulation. In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a more advanced technique where eggs are retrieved and fertilised in a laboratory before being transferred to the uterus. Other treatments, such as surgery to correct structural abnormalities or assisted hatching to improve embryo implantation, may also be recommended. The success rates of these treatments vary depending on individual factors and the specific treatment chosen.

Infertility Treatments for Men: What Are the Options?

Treatment options for male infertility depend on the underlying cause. Surgery may be recommended to correct anatomical issues such as varicoceles or blockages in the reproductive tract. Medications can be prescribed to address hormonal imbalances or erectile dysfunction. In some cases, assisted reproductive technologies such as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) may be used, where a single sperm is injected directly into an egg during IVF. It is important for men to consult with a fertility specialist to determine the most appropriate treatment option.

Assisted Reproductive Technologies: Understanding IVF, IUI, and Other Options

Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) offer hope for couples struggling with infertility. In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is the most well-known and widely used ART. It involves stimulating the ovaries to produce multiple eggs, retrieving the eggs, fertilising them in a laboratory, and transferring the resulting embryos to the uterus. Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is a less invasive procedure where sperm is placed directly into the uterus during ovulation. Other options, such as gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) or zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT), may be considered depending on individual circumstances.

Alternative Therapies for Infertility: Can Acupuncture, Herbal Remedies, or Yoga Help?

Many individuals explore alternative therapies as adjuncts to conventional fertility treatments. Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese practice involving the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body, has been suggested to improve fertility outcomes by promoting blood flow and reducing stress. Herbal remedies such as chasteberry or maca root are believed to have fertility-enhancing properties, although scientific evidence is limited. Yoga and other mind-body practices can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being during the fertility journey. It is important to consult with a qualified practitioner before incorporating alternative therapies into a fertility treatment plan.

In conclusion, infertility is a challenging journey that affects both men and women. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and available treatments is crucial for individuals and couples navigating this difficult path. Recognising the signs of infertility, seeking appropriate medical advice, and exploring various treatment options can increase the chances of achieving a successful pregnancy. It is important to remember that support and help are available throughout this journey, and no one should face infertility alone. By seeking assistance from healthcare professionals and accessing emotional support networks, individuals and couples can find hope and encouragement as they work towards building their families.

What are the symptoms of infertility?

Infertility symptoms may include irregular periods, painful periods, heavy bleeding, pain during sex, and hormonal imbalances. However, in many cases, there may be no obvious symptoms.

What are the signs of infertility?

The signs of infertility may include difficulty getting pregnant, repeated miscarriages, and abnormal semen analysis in men.

What are the causes of infertility?

Infertility can be caused by a variety of factors, including age, hormonal imbalances, ovulation disorders, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, and certain medical conditions such as diabetes and thyroid disorders.

What are the treatments for infertility?

Treatments for infertility may include fertility drugs, surgery, intrauterine insemination (IUI), in vitro fertilisation (IVF), and other assisted reproductive technologies (ART). Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, and maintaining a healthy weight may also improve fertility.

Can infertility be prevented?

While some causes of infertility cannot be prevented, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of infertility. These include maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and practising safe sex to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections.