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Treatment for infertility

By Simona Byler
May 20, 2024

Did your high school sex-ed class teach you that getting pregnant happens as soon as you have unprotected sex? Yeah, ours too. In reality, reproduction is a messy, sexy, and complicated issue. That’s why it’s normal to worry about your fertility if you’re having trouble conceiving. But, don’t freak out, know you have options, and keep on reading! We’re here to tell you how to know if you’re infertile, how to test your fertility, and discuss the most common infertility treatment options for men and women.

How do I know if I’m infertile?

Okay, don’t be mad if this sounds obvious. But the main symptom of infertility is not getting pregnant, despite having regular unprotected sex for at least a year. If you’re struggling to get pregnant and worried about your fertility, know that you’re not alone. Around 12 percent of heterosexual couples are affected by infertility in the U.S.—that’s almost 7 million people trying hard to conceive. (1)

Other than the obvious, other risk factors of infertility for women are irregular periods or not having periods, endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease, or a history of fertility issues or miscarriages. Possible signs of infertility for men are testicular or prostate conditions, swollen scrotal veins, undescended testicles, or relatives with fertility problems. (2)

A well-known, but not-so-fun fact is that age plays a major role in fertility in both men and women. Your likelihood of getting pregnant is highest in your late teens and 20s and starts to decline in your 30s. By age 40, a woman has a 10 percent chance of getting pregnant each menstrual cycle. (3) Men’s fertility also declines with age, but less predictably.

How does fertility testing work?

We all know the basic idea of how to get pregnant: have unprotected sex. But that sells the process short! A ton of microscopic factors are at play and getting pregnant isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. In fact, fertile couples only have a 20-25 percent chance of achieving a successful pregnancy in any given month. (1)

Given those odds, it’s totally normal to be wondering how to check if you’re fertile. At-home fertility tests are a quick and convenient way to better understand your fertility. The most common at-home fertility tests for women include:

  • Hormone tests
  • Ovulation predictor kits
  • Thyroid function tests

Clinical fertility tests offer more detailed information but they can be expensive and take time. Before visiting a fertility doctor, it’s recommended you try to get pregnant for one year if you’re under 35 and for six months if you’re over 35.

What causes female infertility?

You already know that the female body is complex. That can make it tough to figure out exactly what causes infertility in women, and some couples never receive an official answer—called unexplained infertility. But, thanks to science and medical advancements, we know more about female infertility than ever before.

Ovulation dysfunction is the most common cause of female infertility.. (4) Some medical or genetic conditions cause ovulation dysfunction, or it may be associated with age. Other causes may be structural, either from anomalies of the uterus or scarring in the tubes.

Possible causes of infertility in women include:

  • Problems with egg number and quality: It’s possible to run out of eggs before menopause, and not all eggs have the right number of chromosomes to develop into an embryo.
  • Problems with ovulation: Irregular periods, hormonal imbalances, thyroid problems, and even stress can disrupt your ovulation and keep an egg from releasing regularly.
  • Problems with the fallopian tubes: Pelvic inflammatory disease (which can be caused by gonorrhea or chlamydia) and endometriosis can cause scarring on your fallopian tubes, stopping an egg from reaching your uterus.
  • Problems with the uterus: Polyps, fibroids, and scarring inside your uterus can make it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant in the uterine lining.

Understanding the possible causes informs what the best infertility treatment option is for your unique case. And the good news? Ovulation issues are often treatable with your doctor’s help.

What causes male infertility?

As an equal part of the unassisted pregnancy equation, understanding the causes of male infertility is equally important! At-home fertility tests for men analyze semen samples to understand sperm count, sperm motility (movement), and sperm morphology (shape). But if you’ve been trying to get your partner pregnant for over a year, it might be time to talk to a doctor.

Possible causes of male infertility include:

  • Sperm issues: Low sperm count, slower swimmers, or sperm with nonoptimal shape can have trouble reaching and fertilizing an egg.
  • Medical conditions: Some autoimmune diseases can harm your sperm, as well as diabetes and cystic fibrosis.
  • Infections: Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV can affect your fertility, especially if they’ve gone untreated.
  • Cancer treatments: Serious treatments like radiation therapy or chemotherapy can greatly affect your fertility.

General lifestyle habits can also influence your fertility—and that can be good news! Making some healthy changes can be a simple treatment for male infertility. Avoid smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and using recreational drugs. Don’t spend time in hot tubs or saunas, as the heat can decrease your sperm count. Maintaining a healthy weight and staying away from muscle-building steroids can help improve your fertility outcomes. (5)

How can I treat infertility?

Alright, enough with the symptoms and causes of infertility. Now it’s time to look at what we can do about it! Treatment options will always depend on your unique situation and the causes of your fertility struggles. In general, infertility treatments for men and women involve lifestyle changes, medication, surgery, or a combination of the three. Let’s dive into the specifics of these different treatment options.

Treatments for female infertility

When you start exploring different treatments for female infertility, it’s important to speak with an ob-gyn or a reproductive endocrinologist (an ob-gyn with extra training in fertility). Either way, make sure it’s a professional you’re comfortable with–these procedures take time and require trust and vulnerability.

First off, lifestyle changes can help manage the risk factors of female infertility. Things like maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and staying away from alcohol and recreational drugs are a good place to start!

Medications can also help treat female infertility. If you’re having trouble ovulating, your doctor can prescribe oral medications to help stimulate ovulation. You can monitor whether these drugs are working by tracking your cycle and using an ovulation predictor kit. If the oral medications don’t work, there are also injections to further stimulate your ovaries into releasing an egg.

Another treatment for female infertility is intrauterine insemination (IUI). Don’t let the name scare you! This is just when healthy sperm are put into your uterus right when you’re ovulating. IUI can be used alongside ovulation stimulation as a double-punch process, providing extra help for sperm to find your egg.

The last kind of treatment for female infertility is called assisted reproductive technology (ART). The most common ART is in vitro fertilization (IVF). With IVF, doctors extract some healthy eggs and mix them with your partner’s (or a donor’s!) sperm in a lab. Then, the already-formed embryo is put back into your uterus for implantation.

Treatments for male infertility

Because people with uteruses are the ones getting pregnant, treatments for female infertility are more well-known. And if you don’t have a uterus? You might be wondering what you can do! Let’s talk about some common treatments for male infertility.

We already mentioned that a healthy lifestyle can make a big difference in your sperm count and quality. If that doesn’t cut it, hormone therapy can also help regulate hormone levels that impact your sperm quality.

Surgical options also exist, though they aren’t as common. Here are a few different procedures that can help treat male infertility:

  • Vasectomy reversal: If you’ve had a vasectomy, reversing it gives your sperm the chance to make it out of your system and fertilize an egg.
  • Varicocelectomy: This procedure removes varicose veins from your testicles, as they can impact your sperm quality.
  • Vasoepididymostomy: If there aren’t sperm in your semen, you might have a blockage in a testicle tube. This procedure removes the blockage so your sperm can move freely.

Should I get treated for infertility?

Remember, seeking treatment for infertility is a deeply personal decision! Treatments can be expensive and stressful, but they are incredible medical advancements that give hope and possibility to those struggling to conceive. Whether you choose to pursue treatment or discover an alternative path to parenthood, know that your journey is valid, and your resilience is admirable. We’re here for your reproductive health, and you’ve got this.

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