If you and your partner have been trying to have a baby for a year or more without success, you may be suffering from infertility. Today, many health insurance plans include benefits for the treatment of infertility, but these may be limited. In some cases, when infertility arises as a secondary effect to some other condition that requires treatment (such as endometriosis), your insurance may cover the treatment out of medical necessity.
If you are infertile due to tubal ligation sterilization, or if you are looking for tubal reanastomosis ("tubal reversal"), click here for more information.
Barren; Inability to conceive; Unable to get pregnant
Infertility is the inability to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected intercourse.
Infertility Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Primary infertility is the term used to describe a couple that has never been able to conceive a pregnancy, after at least 1 year of unprotected intercourse. The term secondary infertility describes couples who have previously been pregnant at least once, but have not been able to achieve another pregnancy.
Causes of infertility include a wide range of physical as well as emotional factors. Approximately 30% to 40% of all infertility is due to a "male" factor, such as retrograde ejaculation, impotence, hormone deficiency, environmental pollutants, scarring from sexually transmitted disease, or decreased sperm count. Some factors affecting sperm count are heavy marijuana use or use of prescription drugs such as cimetidine, spironolactone, and nitrofurantoin.
A "female" factor -- scarring from sexually transmitted disease or endometriosis, ovulation dysfunction, poor nutrition, hormone imbalance, ovarian cysts, pelvic infection, tumor, or transport system abnormality from the cervix through the fallopian tubes -- is responsible for 40% to 50% of infertility in couples. The remaining 10% to 30% may be caused by contributing factors from both partners, or by no cause that can be identified.
It is estimated that 10% to 20% of couples will be unable to conceive after 1 year of attempting to become pregnant. It is important that pregnancy be attempted for an extended period (at least 1 year). The chances for pregnancy occurring in healthy couples who are both under the age of 30 and having intercourse regularly is only 25% to 30% per month. A woman's peak fertility occurs in her early 20s. As a woman ages beyond 35 (and particularly after age 40), the likelihood of conceiving diminishes to less than 10% per month.
In addition to age-related factors, increased risk for infertility is associated with having:
Infertility Signs and tests
A complete history and physical examination of both partners is essential.
Tests may include:
Treatment depends on the cause of infertility for any given couple. It may range from simple education and counseling, to the use of medications that treat infections or promote ovulation, to highly sophisticated medical procedures such as in vitro fertilization.
It is important for the couple to recognize and discuss the emotional impact that infertility has on them as individuals and together, and seek medical advice from their health care provider.
As new treatments are announced, couples may either experience new hope or have to deal with old wounds being reopened. Support groups for infertile couples may be an important source of strength and comfort.
Infertility Support Groups
RESOLVE, a national organization, provides both informal support and serves as a referral base for professional counseling specific to infertility issues. See infertility - support group.
Infertility Expectations (prognosis)
A probable cause can be determined for about 85% to 90% of infertile couples. Appropriate therapy (not including advanced techniques, such as in vitro fertilization) allows pregnancy to occur in 50% to 60% of previously infertile couples. Without any treatment intervention, 15% to 20% of couples previously diagnosed as infertile will eventually become pregnant.
Although infertility itself does not cause physical illness, the psychological impact of infertility upon individuals or couples affected by it may be severe. Couples may encounter marital problems, as well as individual depression and anxiety.
Calling your health care provider
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you are unable to achieve a desired pregnancy.
Because infertility is frequently caused by sexually transmitted diseases, practicing safer sex behaviors may minimize the risk of future infertility. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are the two most frequent causes of STD-related infertility.
STDs are often asymptomatic at first, until PID or salpingitis develops. These inflammatory processes cause scarring of the fallopian tubes and decreased fertility, absolute infertility, or an increased incidence of ectopic pregnancy.
Mumps immunization has been well demonstrated to prevent mumps and its male complication, orchitis. Immunization prevents mumps-related sterility.
Some forms of birth control, such as the intrauterine device (IUD), carry a higher risk for future infertility. However, IUDs are not recommended for women who have not previously had a child.
Women selecting the IUD must be willing to accept the very slight risk of infertility associated with its use. Careful consideration of this risk, weighed with the potential benefits, should be reviewed and discussed with both partners and the health care provider.
Laparoscopy is performed when less-invasive surgery is desired. It is also called "band-aid" surgery because only small incisions need to be made to accommodate the small surgical instruments that are used to view the abdominal contents and perform the surgery.
Female Reproductive Anatomy
External structures of the female reproductive anatomy include the labium minora and majora, the vagina and the clitoris. Internal structures include the uterus, ovaries and cervix.
Male Reproductive Anatomy
The male reproductive structures include the penis, the scrotum, the seminal vesicles and the prostate.
Primary infertility is a term used to describe a couple that has never been able to conceive a pregnancy after a minimum of 1 year of attempting to do so through unprotected intercourse. Causes of infertility include a wide range of physical as well as emotional factors.
The male reproductive system creates sperm that is manufactured in the seminiferous tubules within each testicle. The head of the sperm contains the DNA, which when combined with the egg's DNA, will create a new individual. The tip of the sperm head is the portion called the acrosome, which enables the sperm to penetrate the egg. The midpiece contains the mitochondria which supplies the energy the tail needs to move. The tail moves with whip-like movements back and forth to propel the sperm towards the egg. The sperm have to reach the uterus and the fallopian tube in order to fertilize a woman's egg.
[Article from the MedLine Plus Medical Encyclopedia of the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.]
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