Infertility Educational Series Part #1: What is Infertility?

Infertility is a delicate and emotional topic for you as a woman and your family. The feeling of inadequacy, “why me” and the lower self esteem created by being infertile often leads to emotional distress, family tension and actually aggravates the infertility problem. That’s why understanding what infertility is, the types of infertility and the questions you need to ask is so very important.

Many women have questions on infertility and in response we have started a three part infertility educational series that discusses what infertility is, its emotional toll and the hopeful light at the end of the tunnel. Infertility is considered a disease by the World Health Organization and many wonder at what point is infertility an issue.  Let’s discuss this problem in more detail in our Infertility Educational Series Part #1: What is Infertility?

Simply put, infertility is the term used for describing the inability to conceive even after a year of unprotected intercourse. In women past the age of 35, the time would be after 6 months. In some cultures the woman is blamed for the infertility however infertility is a problem shared equally by both sexes; men can be infertile as well.  There are several factors that contribute to infertility, among them are age, hormonal issues, damage to reproductive organs, sperm health and in some cases the cause is not exactly known.

Fertility and Age

As we age our fertility decreases.  In women, the chances of becoming pregnant decrease by up to 5 % for every year past the age of 30.  In men, fertility also decreases with age as the sperm become less agile and sperm counts become lower thus contributing to a lesser chance of conception. As men get older, the sperm develop more defects which in turn result in miscarriages, birth defects or lack of fertility.

Hormonal Issues

Hormones play an integral role in the conception process.  They signal to the ovaries in women to release estrogen and mature eggs.  In men the endocrine system is controlled by hormones and any imbalance in the amount of hormones can disrupt the maturation and development of sperm cells or spermatogenesis in which the end result is lack of conception.

Damage to Reproductive System

Infertility can occur as a result of damage to the reproductive system and/or its organs.  This damage can come from untreated sexually transmitted diseases (STD). About 10-15% of women with untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and this causes permanent irreparable damage to the fallopian tubes, uterus and tissues within the pelvic area. Although these diseases sometimes show no symptoms an annual STD screening will pinpoint the existence of the infection.  Drug abuse is also linked to infertility as it upsets the body’s ability to work like it’s supposed to.  Drug abuse can:

  • suppress the immune system leading to an increased risk of contracting an STD
  • cause erectile dysfunction in men
  • cause lower sperm counts and lowered sperm motility
  • cause imbalances in the endocrine system which lead to imbalanced hormones
  • cause changes in menstrual cycles thus decreasing the chances of conception due to malnutrition in women
  • prevent ovulation
  • cause abnormalities to eggs and fallopian tubes

Damage can also have occurred as a result of  diseases such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which is an endocrine disorder that affects ovulation, menstruation cycles and hormone levels, from endometriosis which is when there is an abnormal growth of cells similar to those found in the lining of the uterus growing outside of the uterus and from primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) which occurs when the ovaries fail to function normally. Treatments for cancer in the area where the male sexual organs exist can also cause infertility in men; radiation treatments can reduce the number of sperm as well as their ability to function normally.  This can be a short term occurrence however in some cases it becomes a lifelong infertility. Fibroids in a woman’s uterus can also cause infertility as they prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.  Finally, surgeries in the pelvic and genital areas can lead to infertility such as the removal of the testicles in men or the removal of the fallopian tubes, ovaries or uterus in women. Internal scarring that may have resulted from a surgery in those areas  is also a precursor to infertility.

Unknown/Unexplainable Causes

Sometimes infertility has no explainable cause.  There may have been abnormalities that were not detected during medical exams or screenings of the male and female reproductive system that could not be detected with our current technology.  New studies have shown that most of unexplained infertility is a result of what is called High Sperm DNA Damage where 25% or more of sperm has damaged DNA.  Other unexplained causes include trapped eggs called luteinized unruptured follicle syndrome (LUF), luteal phase defects which affect the release of the egg, abnormal eggs due to deformities in their structure, abnormalities in the fallopian tubes that do not allow for the eggs to be picked up in them, inability of sperm to fertilize eggs and abnormal uterine linings. Finally infertility can be due to simply a matter of chance or “unluckiness” where persistence may win in the end if a couple continues to try or has intercourse more often.

At New Life Wellness Center, our goal is to assist our patients and help them achieve their longtime dream of becoming parents. We offer the best quality of care for both male and female infertility. We offer a comprehensive fertility evaluation that includes analysis of the male and female reproductive systems. We have trained caring individuals that will answer your questions and provide the guidance needed for you to make proper informed decisions about your body. Call us (718)567-0730 or stop by any of our conveniently located offices in Brooklyn at 634 – 59th Street or in Manhattan at 128 Mott Street to schedule an appointment.

Be sure to come back next week for Part 2 of New Life’s 3 Part series on infertility where we will be discussing the emotional toll of an infertility diagnosis and ways to cope with it.