Infertility 101: Understanding the Causes and Available Treatments

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Some people simply have a difficult time getting or staying pregnant and it’s far more common – and treatable – than many couples realize. It’s estimated that approximately 10% to 15% of couples in the United States have infertility. However, just because you have gotten pregnant yet or haven’t been able to carry a baby to full-term doesn’t mean that you have to give up on the idea of having children of your own. As many as 90% of infertility cases are treatable, and no you don’t need to resort to expensive fertility treatments either. While those are successful options that we discuss in this article, there are just as many effective alternatives and natural tips you can implement to start boosting your reproductive health and increasing your fertility.   

What is Infertility?

Infertility is a disease that affects the reproductive system of men and women. One may receive this diagnosis after not being able to get pregnant after trying for one year (or more). It affects millions of people around the globe and the rates continue to rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It isn’t just a female problem either. In fact, approximately 11% of women and 9% of men in the childbearing age range have infertility. There are many factors that affect fertility in both men and women, such as:

  • Age: Fertility in women gradually declines with age, especially in their mid-30s. It rapidly decreases after the age of 37 due to the quality of eggs being reduced, as well as the number of eggs. For men, their fertility typically declines over the age of 40.
  • Alcohol use: Heavy alcohol use has been shown to decrease sperm count and quality.
  • Tobacco use: Smoking tobacco products by either partner can reduce the likelihood of conceiving. Tobacco use can also affect the effectiveness of fertility treatments, decrease sperm count in men and even increase the risk of erectile dysfunction.
  • Marijuana use: Similar to the prior, using marijuana products can reduce the likelihood of pregnancy.
  • Weight: Being overweight or underweight can increase the risk of infertility. It can also affect the sperm count for men.
  • Lack of physical activity: A lack of exercise largely contributes to being overweight and obesity, and can also increase the risk of fertility. Women who exercise regularly tend to have less ovulation problems as well.

Fortunately, many of these risk factors can be prevented or avoided altogether to reduce the risk of experiencing fertility issues.

Common Causes of Infertility

There are also various causes of infertility. Some issues resulting in fertility are present at birth and others can be developed later in life. In some circumstances, infertility issues can seemingly come out of nowhere, with no obvious contributing factors too. However, understanding what the potential causes are can help you determine what may be affecting your fertility so you can take the proper steps to heal them.

Potential causes of infertility in men are:

  • Abnormal sperm function or production: genetic defects, undescended testicles, STDS/STIs, health conditions, such as diabetes, and enlarged veins in the testicles can lead to this issue.
  • Overexposure to environmental factors: Exposure to toxins, such as pesticides, chemicals and radiation can cause infertility in men. This includes alcohol, marijuana, steroids, cigarette smoke and medications for high blood pressure, bacterial infections and depression.
  • Overexposure to high heat: Frequent exposure to extreme heat, such as from a sauna or hot tub, can affect sperm production as it increases the body temperature.
  • Issues with the delivery of sperm: This can be caused by some genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, sexual problems, such as premature ejaculation, structural problems, such as a blockage in a testicle, or an injury to the reproductive organs.
  • Cancer treatments: Common cancer treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, can severely impair sperm production.

Potential causes of infertility in women are:

  • Cervical or uterine abnormalities: Issues with the cervix, shape of the uterus or polyps in the uterus can affect fertility in women. Uterine fibroids can also cause infertility by causing a blockage in the fallopian tubes, so the fertilized egg can’t implant in the uterus.
  • Ovulation disorders: Health conditions that affect the release of eggs can lead to infertility in women. This includes hormonal issues, such as PCOS, thyroid problems (hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism), and hyperprolactinemia (when the body creates too much prolactin).
  • Damage or blockage in the fallopian tube: A blockage or damage in the fallopian tube is typically caused by inflammation.
  • Early menopause: With early menopause, the ovaries stop working before the age of 40, causing menstruation to stop and menopause to begin. Factors that may contribute to early menopause include immune system diseases and cancer treatments. 
  • Endometriosis: A condition where endometrial tissue grows on the outside of the uterus, which can affect the function of your ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus.
  • Pelvic scar tissue: Commonly caused by a pelvic infection, endometriosis, appendicitis or pelvic surgery.
  • Cancer treatments: Not only can certain cancers affect female fertility, particularly reproductive cancers, but cancer treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy can also affect fertility.

Common Treatments for Infertility

Dealing with infertility issues can be quite disheartening but rest be assured, almost 90% of all infertility cases are treatable. Whether it’s with drug treatment, surgical repair of reproductive organs or assisted reproductive techniques such as IVF (in vitro fertilization) or insemination, there are options. To help you decide what the best course of action is for you and your partner, let’s take a look at some of the most common treatments used today to treat infertility are:

  • Medications: Fertility drugs can be used to change the hormone levels in women to stimulate ovulation. They can also be used to raise testosterone and other hormone levels in men or to treat erectile dysfunction.
  • Surgery: There are many surgical options available, depending on the cause of infertility. For example, surgery can be done to remove blockages in the fallopian tubes caused by uterine fibroids or polyps. It can also be used to open the tubes that store and carry sperm in men. Surgery is also available to treat endometriosis, which doubles your chances of getting pregnant or to make the sperm healthier in men to increase the odds of conception.
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF): A process that involves placing the eggs and sperm together in a lab dish, so the sperm can fertilize the egg, which is then transferred into the uterus.
  • Intrauterine insemination (IUI): A procedure where a tube in used to place the sperm directly into the uterus.
  • Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI): Similar to IVF treatments, a sperm is added to the egg for fertilization and added into the uterus.
  • Third-party options: Donor eggs, donor embryos and donor sperm are also available options, as well as surrogacy.

Tips For Naturally Boosting Fertility

The conventional treatments for infertility can seem quite intimidating, not only due to the medical procedure or potential side effects of medication but also due to the high cost that often comes with them. The good news: there are some affordable, natural and effective options. Whether it’s making some simple lifestyle changes to remove risk factors or eating more foods that naturally increase fertility, here are some of our favourite tips for boosting fertility naturally:

Track Your Ovulation and Get To It

Instead of having regular intercourse whenever and crossing your fingers for results, start tracking your ovulation so you can see when you are most likely to get pregnant. There are many apps for this but generally, ovulation occurs in the middle of your menstrual cycle. So, five days prior to getting your period until one day after is when you’re most fertile.

Additionally, you’ll want to avoid using lubrication if possible as many are said to inhibit sperm.

Lifestyle Changes

As you saw from the potential risk factors mentioned above, there are things in your lifestyle that may be affecting your fertility, such as smoking cigarettes and marijuana or drinking too much alcohol. As a quick recap, here are some simple lifestyle changes to make to eliminate factors that may be contributing to your infertility:

  • Avoiding tobacco and marijuana products.
  • Limit (or eliminate) alcohol use (particularly for men)
  • Skip out on the hot tub and saunas: Anything with high temperatures, whether from a sauna and hot tub or a hot bath can increase your body tempera and affect sperm count and quality.
  • Steer clear of environmental toxins: Limit your exposure to toxins, such as pesticides and chemicals, as they can affect your fertility.
  • Start exercising: Regular exercise can increase the chances of conceiving, so start heading to the gym together or going for a daily 20-minute walk with your partner.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake: If you’re a several-cups-of-coffee kind of person, try to reduce your daily dose to one cup of java a day as caffeine can affect fertility (especially important for women).
  • Avoid weight extremes: Being underweight or overweight can disrupt your hormone production and lead to infertility. Start eating a clean, nutritious diet and make time for regular exercise to get your body weight within a healthy range for conception.  

Check Your Medications

Certain medications can impact fertility. This includes over-the-counter medications and those that require a prescription. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss any medications you’re on or should be avoiding to increase your fertility.

Most couples will eventually conceive successfully, with or without treatment but it can never hurt to be proactive about your situation to increase fertility. With the information and tips learned in this article, you’ll be one step closer (or a few steps closer) to overcoming your infertility concerns.

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