All About Infertility: How Common Is It

Infertility is not being able to conceive after a year or longer of unprotected sex. There are two types of infertility: primary and secondary. Primary infertility is a woman who was never pregnant and still can’t conceive after a year of not using any birth control and contraceptives. Secondary infertility is when women can’t conceive after at least one unsuccessful pregnancy or a miscarriage. 

Men’s fertility generally starts to reduce around ages 40-45 when sperm quality decreases. Fertility among women decreases ten years earlier than men, at age 30, and declines more as women reach their mid-30s. When they reach age 45, getting pregnant at this age is unlikely. 

Are you trying to conceive? If you don’t match the age factor of infertility, continue reading to learn more about infertility, its prevalence, the risk factors in both sexes, and how to treat it. 

How Common Is It?

Infertility is a global health issue that affects millions of individuals of reproductive age around the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that 186 million individuals and 48 million couples have infertility issues around the globe.

Undoubtedly, it’s a common problem, and the United States isn’t safe from it. A total of 6% of married women in the United States face infertility problems, while 12% have trouble carrying the pregnancy until the due date. Male infertility also plays a role in a couple’s difficulty; among couples, it ranges from 35 to 50% of the cases in the United States.

South Korea has the lowest fertility rate at 0.9% children per woman. In another country, researchers found that the average age of first-time mothers in Australia is 29.6 years old, which is already an age where fertility is starting to decrease. Infertility also affects 1 out of 6 Australian couples of reproductive age, in addition to the increasing infertility rates in Australian women. 

Due to the alarming increase in infertility among Australian women, there have been numerous companies that help couples check for their chances of conceiving. Fertility North in Australia specializes in providing an excellent, supportive fertility treatment experience for couples who need it. 

Risk Factors of Infertility

Infertility among people has numerous risk factors, including age, including:

  • Age (over 40-45 for men; 30 for women)
  • Stress
  • Eating disorders (bulimia and anorexia nervosa)
  • Diabetes
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Over-exercising
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to environmental toxins (pesticides and lead)
  • Radiation therapy or other cancer treatments
  • Substance abuse
  • Weight problems (underweight or obesity)
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Risk Factors of Female Infertility

The following are the specific risk factors for females:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Abnormal menstruation
  • Kidney disease
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Blocked fallopian tubes
  • Uterine problems (endometriosis, uterine polyps, and uterine fibroids)
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Past ectopic (tubal) pregnancy
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Ovarian Cysts
  • Primary Ovarian Insufficiency
  • Pituitary gland disorders (Cushing’s syndrome)

Risk Factors of Male Infertility

The following risk factors are specific for men only:

  • Undescended testicles
  • Enlarged veins (varicocele) in the scrotum 
  • Testicular cancer (and treatments(
  • Low sperm count 
  • Low testosterone (hypogonadism)
  • Genetic disorders (cystic fibrosis)
  • Injury to testicles or scrotum
  • Misuse of anabolic steroids
  • High heat exposure (frequent use of hot tubs, saunas, or use of tight pants)

How Is a Female Infertility Diagnosed?

When you consult a physician about your fertility, you should expect they will ask you about your ovulation. They may also ask you to record signs of ovulation, such as cervical mucus and basal body temperature. You can utilize a home ovulation kit or a mobile app for these. 

The following tests can help diagnose or rule out if a female is infertile:

  • Pelvic exam. A healthcare provider will perform your pelvic exam, including a Pap smear, to check for any structural problems, disease, or cancer signs.
  • Laparoscopy. In this test, a thin tube with a camera or a laparoscopy will be inserted in a small abdominal incision. This test helps identify problems like scar tissue, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. 
  • Blood test. A blood test is utilized to check a female’s hormone levels and if there are any thyroid hormones. 
  • Hysterosalpingogram (HSG). It’s an X-ray operation utilized by physicians to check if the uterine cavity or the inside of the uterus is normal or if the fallopian tubes are open. An injectable dye would travel through the fallopian tubes to check for blockages.
  • Hysteroscopy. A hysteroscope or a thin, lighted tube would be inserted into the vagina to examine the uterus. 
  • Transvaginal ultrasound. An ultrasound wand would be inserted into your vagina to look for any problems in your reproductive system. It’s a pelvic ultrasound called endovaginal ultrasound, and some women may experience mild discomfort from the pressure of the probe, but in most cases, there’s no reported pain.
  • Saline sonohysterogram (SIS or SHG). A physician will fill the uterus with saline solution or sterilized salt water to conduct another transvaginal ultrasound. It’s used to evaluate the uterus and the uterine cavity’s shape. This test makes it easier to see inside the uterus.

How Is Male Infertility Diagnosed?

The tests to check for male infertility are the following:

  • Semen analysis. For most men, this is the only test needed in the workup to check for infertility. Semen analysis checks for any problems with the sperm, e.g., poor mobility or low sperm count. Some men would need a needle biopsy to remove sperm from the testicles to test it.
  • Scrotal ultrasound. A man’s scrotum will be checked using ultrasound to identify varicoceles or other testicular problems. 
  • Blood test. It can detect a man’s thyroid, other hormone levels, and testosterone. Also, blood tests that can check genetics look for any chromosomal abnormalities.

Final Thoughts

If you’re a woman under 35 years old after trying for a year, it would be best to seek professional help. If you’re older than 35, it would be better to seek help sooner, about six months of trying. As mentioned, the chances of getting pregnant for both sexes decrease with age. 

Regardless of your sex, you should seek a healthcare provider if you have a risk factor that could affect your fertility. A physician can give you the best answer in your chances of conceiving.

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