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Infertility is a condition that affects an estimated 15% of couples worldwide. Here’s what you need to know about how common infertility is, who it affects, and what factors can play a role.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 35% of infertility cases, it’s related to a combination of factors in both the man and woman.
And in some cases, the exact cause is not known. “Sometimes, there is no explanation,” says Maryanne George, a certified nurse-midwife with Spectrum Health.
What is known, however, is that there are certain medical conditions that can contribute to infertility in both men and women, such as:
Researchers estimate that about 40% to 50% of the time, the root factor is a cause of infertility in the male, alone.
Where “male factors are often related to varicoceles or trauma that affects sperm production in the testes,” says George.
For men, the key factors in determining fertility are both the quality and quantity of your sperm. High-quality sperm is often associated with high motility, which is a sperm’s ability to swim through the vagina, up the cervix, and into the fallopian tubes where it can fertilize an egg. If you have weak sperm, you’re less likely to impregnate a woman. Quantity — or how many sperm are in each ejaculation — is also important. The more the better.
There are many different ways to damage the quality and quantity of your sperm, George says. For example, activities and habits that expose your testicles to pressure or heat including:
Then, there’s your diet and overall mental and physical health. Research has shown that many factors associated with an unhealthy lifestyle are also linked to infertility in men, including:
Medications can also inhibit male infertility. According to the CDC, below are some examples of such medications.
There are also certain medical conditions that affect male infertility including:
Lastly, some research suggests that certain environmental chemicals — like BPA and phthalates — and pollution — like the air pollutants sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide — can cause infertility in both men and women. Though, more research is needed to understand exactly how these factors play a role in overall reproductive health.
An estimated 12% of all women aged 15 to 44 in the US have trouble getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. The most common cause is when a woman does not ovulate.
There are many reasons for why a woman may not ovulate, but the most common reason related to infertility is polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS. PCOS is when women produce more androgen, or male, hormones than normal, which can prevent ovulation as a result. PCOS accounts for an estimated 80% of infertility cases associated with a lack of ovulation.
Age can also play a role in infertility. “Women over 32 years old are more likely to have problems ovulating, especially the longer they wait to become pregnant,” George says.
Additionally, just like for men, physical and mental health play an important role in a woman’s ability to conceive. Below are some examples:
Medical conditions that affect female infertility include:
There are more factors that can contribute to infertility in women. Check out the CDC for more information.
For couples who are actively trying to get pregnant, 80% to 90% are able to conceive in the first year, and 95% will get pregnant within two years.
If you have not been able to conceive after six months of actively trying, particularly if you are 35 years of age or older, you should consider scheduling an appointment with a doctor or specialist since it could be a sign of infertility.
George also says that it’s common for a couple to not even realize if fertilization occurred because the pregnancy is lost before the next menstrual cycle starts.
“In our practice, we encourage couples to reach out to us if unable to conceive after six months of actively trying to conceive,” George says. “We are able to start some conservative testing to rule out causes that may be treatable with a little hormonal support, lifestyle change, or even an antibiotic.”