Infertility affects up to 15% of couples worldwide. As we approach international infertility awareness week, April 24-30th, let’s take a moment to examine how this medical problem affects couples and ways that it can be treated.
What Is Infertility?
Infertility is defined as failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected intercourse in women younger than age 35 or within 6 months in women older than 35. Women are encouraged to seek consultation with an obstetrician/gynecologist if they have been unable to achieve a pregnancy in that time frame. In women over the age of 40, immediate consultation is recommended. Women that have a condition that is known to cause infertility should seek immediate evaluation. This would include women that have:
- No periods or skip periods for several months during the year
- History of pelvic infections like pelvic inflammatory disease
- Previously diagnosed stage III or IV endometriosis
- Known or suspected male infertility
What Happens at an Infertility Consultation?
Couples that seek consultation should expect to have a medical history obtained, a physical examination and additional tests as recommended by your physician. This may mean blood work to evaluate for causes of infertility, like thyroid dysfunction, hormonal imbalances or chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension that may need to be optimized to improve the chance of achieving a pregnancy. Your doctor may recommend a transvaginal ultrasound to evaluate the female anatomy. They will also recommend a semen analysis for the partner as male factor can cause infertility in up to 40-50% of couples.
If a cause is identified, then your provider will discuss appropriate treatment options. Unfortunately, up to 30% of couples have unexplained infertility, meaning, after thorough medical evaluation, no identifiable cause can be determined.
Treatment Options for Infertility
Infertility can cause a great deal of stress and frustration in couples hoping to start a family. Fortunately, treatment options are available and are tailored to each couple’s needs. For example, your provider may recommend placing you on medication to improve the chance of ovulation, or releasing an egg, each month. They may recommend a technique where the sperm is washed and injected directly into the uterus, called intrauterine insemination. If they have identified a problem with semen count, such as low sperm, they may recommend your partner is treated by a urologist. Finally, specialists in infertility may be recommended. These physicians are called reproductive endocrinologists. They may recommend injectable medication or more advanced techniques such as in vitro fertilization.
For more questions, reach out to a CHI Health OB/GYN.