Thursday, November 02, 2006

Causes of Infertility

By Brandi M. Seals

Quite possibly there is nothing worse than deciding that you want to make a family only to learn after several unsuccessful attempts that you are unable to conceive.

Natural conception is a process dependant on several factors. First, the woman needs to be able to produce a viable egg which must be able to travel down into the Fallopian tube.

The man must produce a good number of quality sperm which are able to make the journey from the vagina, through the cervix and into a Fallopian tube where fertilization takes place.

The timing of intercourse is also of vital importance. Conception can only occur during ovulation (when the female produces an egg). Once fertilization takes place, a normal uterus is needed in order for the embryo to implant and develop properly.

It may be surprising to know that natural human fertility is low compared to most other species. In fact, the chance at becoming pregnant during each menstrual cycle is only about 33% for fertile couples.

Most fertile couples should be able to get pregnant within a year or regular intercourse. Although infertility is defined as the inability to become pregnant within a year of regularly trying, not all those that fit into that category are infertile. Some couples take longer to conceive due to low fertility rather than infertility.

Infertility is caused by a number of different factors. At one time infertility was thought to be a woman's problem, but really it is not. Approximately 40% of the time the male plays a significant part in the fertility problem.

Female Infertility
Female infertility is generally caused by ovulation problems, cervical conditions, pelvic and tubal factors and uterine factors.

Ovulation
Ovulation is complex. Hormonal signals and physical factors are all linked into this delicate system. Women generally ovulate the most effectively in their late teens and early 20s. As they age, there is a decline in the ability to ovulate effectively.

A woman's ovulation can be seriously affected by number of factors including:
Abnormalities of the thyroid gland
Overproduction of prolactin (a hormone leading to breast milk production)
Excessive androgens (male hormones)
Physical or psychological stress
Extreme lifestyle changes

Cervical Infertility
Cervical Infertility generally means that the sperm is unable to pass through the mouth of uterus because for some reason, the cervix has been damaged.

Cervical infertility can be caused by the following:
Inadequate or inhospitable cervical mucous
Narrowing of the cervix
Cervical infections which include chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonas, mycoplasma hominis and ureaplasma urealyticum
Immune attack of sperm or sperm allergy

Pelvic Factors
Pelvic factors that may cause fertility problems include any abnormalities of the pelvis (generally in the form of scar tissue or adhesions).

Pelvic abnormalities that can lead to infertility include:
Endometriosis
Blocked or scarred fallopian tubes

Uterine problems that may lead to infertility include:
A thin or abnormal uterine lining
Anatomic problems such as polyps, uterine fibroids, abnormal shape of the uterus, septum or dividing wall within the uterus

Unexplained Infertility
Sometimes there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason for the infertility. Approximately 10% of infertile women suffer from unexplainable infertility. That means that the common tests used to diagnose usual causes of infertility come up as normal. These women have no clearly defined reason for being infertile but generally the problem is due to:

Difficulty with the fallopian tube picking up the egg
Failed implantation of the embryo into the uterus
Failure of the egg to become fertilized when in contact with sperm

Male Infertility
Male infertility, like female infertility, can be caused by a number things. Generally for males the sperm has somehow been adversely affected. Low sperm count, abnormal sperm shape, and low sperm motility are a problem. Males generally do not experience any symptoms that may indicate that something is wrong with their sperm. It is generally only during failed conception that the problem is noticed.

Some of these sperm abnormalities may be improved by reducing stress, avoidance of tight clothing, saunas or hot tubs, avoiding tobacco, alcohol, or drugs such as marijuana. Be aware that some illnesses and medications may temporarily affect sperm counts.

Male infertility may be caused by:
Exposure to toxins, chemicals, or radiation
Infections such as mumps, or venereal diseases
Testicular injury
Childhood illness
Blockage of one of the ducts allowing flow of sperm from the testicle
Genetic absence of these ducts
Immune reaction against sperm
Testicular failure and other hormonal problems
Thyroid disease, diabetes, or hypertension
Spinal cord injuries and paralysis
Varicocele

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