Every year, a large number of couples get wedded both in the big cities and in the remote areas. Out of these couples, at least 97% would want to have kids, but the reality of life is that it doesn’t always come that easily.
An article published in Mayo clinic reported that a good number of couples struggle to have a baby and about 10 to 15% of couples in the United States are infertile. Infertility occurs when a couple is unable to conceive after about 12 months of regular unprotected sex.
A large number of societies place the blame on the women when an issue like this occurs, because they are the ones that get to carry the fetus but it doesn’t really sound fair considering the fact that a woman’s inability to get pregnant could be an issue coming from her side or one from her partner. In other words, there is infertility in men, and there is infertility in women.
Another article published in Medical News Today reports that about 10% of women between the ages of 15 to 44 in the United States have difficulty conceiving or staying pregnant and about 8 to 12% of couples worldwide experience fertility problems.
What are the significant factors that lead to the inability to get pregnant?
The following are the common causes of the inability of a man to impregnate a woman:
- Abnormality with sperm production and function- this may result from cases like genetic defects and undescended testis (cryptorchidism) other health conditions like gonorrhea, cancer, testicular infection, mumps, and diabetes can also lead to this.
- Low sperm count- with each ejaculation, the testis releases semen containing millions of sperm. These large numbers of sperm are required to fertilize the female egg, ‘ova.’ When it is low (below 15 million), it is considered a low sperm count and can lead to infertility.
- Abnormal shape of sperm- sperm cells has a particular, and when the form is unusual, it becomes more difficult for them to move towards the egg.
- Low sperm motility- when sperm cells lack motility, they cannot travel effectively to meet the egg. Hence fertilization cannot take place.
- Problems with sperm transport- sexual issues like premature ejaculation, structural defects like testicular blockage, other genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis and injury such as testicular torsion are underlying causes of inability of the sperm to be delivered to the egg site.
- Ejaculation disorders- there are some cases of ejaculatory duct blockage whereby the semen is ejaculated into the bladder. A similar thing happens in the case of retrograde ejaculation whereby the sperm goes the wrong way and gets ejaculated into the bladder.
- Environmental factors- exposure to certain substances in the environment such as chemicals and radiation predisposes to infertility. Constant exposure to heat is not suitable for the testes either as it interferes with sperm cell production. The same applies to smoke and alcohol consumption. Also, certain medications, such as anabolic steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs, could affect male fertility.
The female factor
Just as it is in the males, infertility in females has a range of causes and risk factors that can predispose one to it. Some of the major ones include:
- Ovulation and hormonal disorders- this forms one of the significant and most common causes of female infertility. It usually affects the release of eggs from the ovary and abnormalities in the menstrual cycle. It can present as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in which cysts form in the ovary or hyperprolactinemia (excess production of the prolactin hormone that stimulates the production of breast milk). Hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism can also affect the menstrual cycle leading to infertility.
- Abnormalities with the uterus and cervix- the uterus is where the fetus, forms, develops and grows while the cervix is the passage for both the sperm cells and the embryo when it is time for delivery. The environment in both has to be favorable for the sperm cells or the fertilized egg for proper fetal growth to occur. There are also cases of abnormalities with the cervical opening. The shape of the uterus matters in this case, and benign tumors (uterine fibroids) could grow in the uterus blocking the fallopian tubes and preventing the sperm cells from passing through or interfering with implantation of fertilized eggs.
- Damage or blockage of the fallopian tube-salpingitis, which is the blockage of the fallopian tube, can be as a result of what is called pelvic inflammatory disease. Such diseases can be caused by endometriosis or sexually transmitted infections.
- Endometriosis- is usually a painful condition whereby endometrial tissues that are meant to grow only in the uterus grows outside of the uterus. It often interferes with the normal functioning of the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes.
- Early menopause- women experience menopause usually at the later ages of 45 and above. However, in certain conditions, menopause could occur earlier than that. Certain factors such as immune system disorder, radiation, genetic conditions could predispose one to early menopause.
- Other medical conditions- cancer and its treatment options often leave women with severely impaired fertility. Delayed puberty or the absence of menstruation, a condition called amenorrhea is a severe hormonal disorder that has a high possibility of causing infertility. Diabetic conditions and autoimmune diseases like lupus can also affect fertility.
While the above factors are the significant causes of the inability to conceive, there are also risk factors to this condition. Factors such as advancement in age, the consumption of tobacco and alcohol use are risk factors. Smoking is said to cause erectile dysfunction, while alcohol use can cause low sperm count and reduced motility. Also, inadequate exercise, overweight, and underweight are all risk factors.
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