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All about infertility causes of male infertility causes of female infertility causes of infertility infertility tests female fertility tests male fertility tests infertility treatment assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments for female infertility female infertility drugs treatments for male infertility infertility prevention in vitro fertilization (IVF) intrauterine insemination (IUI) gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT)

What causes infertility?

Infertility is caused by male and female factors: male related problems account for about 40% of infertility and female related problems account for another 40%. A combination of male and female factors represent 10% and unexpected causes account for the remaining 10% of infertlity. Male infertility can be caused by a number of different characteristics of the sperm. Although only one sperm is ultimately required for fertilization, men whose semen (fluid composed of sperm and other secretions and produced during ejaculation) contains less than 20 million sperm per milliliter frequently have infertility problems.

The most common problem affecting male sperm levels is a varicocele, a tangle of swollen veins surrounding the testis (the reproductive organ that produces sperm). Surgical correction of the varicocele restores normal fertility in about two-thirds of cases.

Fertility rates slowly decline after age 35 because of decreasing ability to ovulate (produce eggs). Women are born with all of the eggs they'll ever have. As women age, so do their eggs. Eggs of women in their late 30s and in their 40s are more likely to have chromosomal abnormalities, which helps to account for the high rate of miscarriage and Down syndrome at this age.

Adhesions (scar tissue formation) interfere with the ovaries and fallopian tubes. In endometriosis, endometrial tissue, which normally lines the uterus, implants over the ovaries and prevents the egg from entering the fallopian tube after ovulation. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), miscarriage and prior surgery form adhesions as well, which may also block the fallopian tubes and prevent the passage of an egg down to the uterus. PID is usually caused by a sexually transmitted disease. It can also stem from miscarriage, abortion, childbirth or an intrauterine device. Ovulatory dysfunction causes most cases of infertility. Ovulation makes eggs available for fertilization by sperm. Hormonal imbalance, such as in polycystic ovary syndrome, prevents maturation of eggs. Ovulation is absent or very irregular. Ovulatory dysfunction can be caused by hormonal abnormalities, too much exercise and other factors. Uterine fibroids may prevent implantation of the embryo or interfere with early fetal growth. Many women have fibroids, which are benign (non-cancerous) tumors. However, in some women, fibroids can lead to first trimester miscarriage.

Underlying problems include disease, such as diabetes or mumps in adult men, hormonal imbalances, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (often caused by sexually transmitted diseases, e.g., chlamydia), the abuse of alcohol and other drugs, and exposure to workplace hazards or environmental toxins. Uterine irritation or infection that sometimes accompanies IUD use can also reduce fertility. Occasionally there is a chemical or immunological incompatibility between male and female. Psychological factors are difficult to evaluate because of the stressful nature of infertility itself.

Certain environmental factors may cause men to produce a less concentrated sperm, according to a government report. Exposure to lead, other heavy metals, and pesticides has also been associated with male infertility. Many other factors, such as excessive heat exposure, microwave radiation, ultrasound, and other health hazards, are more controversial as to whether they induce infertility.

Smoking may cause infertility in both men and women. In experimental animals, nicotine has been shown to block the production of sperm and decrease the size of a man’s testicles. In women, tobacco changes the cervical mucus, thus affecting the way sperm reach the egg.

Marijuana may disrupt a woman's ovulation cycle (release of the egg). Marijuana use affects men by decreasing the sperm count and the quality of the sperm. Heroin, cocaine, and crack cocaine use induces similar effects but places the user at increased risk for PID and HIV infection associated with risky sexual behavior.

In women, the effects of alcohol are related more to severe consequences for the fetus. Nevertheless, chronic alcoholism is related to disorders in ovulation and, therefore, interferes with fertility. Alcohol use by men interferes with the synthesis of testosterone and has an impact on sperm concentration. Alcoholism may delay a man's sexual response and may cause impotence (unable to have an erection).

More information on infertility

What is infertility? - Infertility is the inability to achieve and/or maintain pregnancy. Infertility may due to a variety of causes, including abnormal hormonal levels, low sperm production and scarring of the fallopian tubes.
What causes infertility in men? - The most common male infertility factors include azoospermia and oligospermia. In rare cases, infertility in men is caused by a genetic disease such as cystic fibrosis or a chromosomal abnormality.
What causes infertility in women? - The most common female infertility factor is an ovulation disorder. Other causes of female infertility include blocked fallopian tubes. Inability of the fertilized egg to implant in the uterus will lead to female infertility.
What causes infertility? - Causes of infertility include a wide range of physical as well as emotional factors. Infertility can be caused by any interruption in the usual process of fertilization, pregnancy, and birth.
How is infertility diagnosed? - In the male, sperm examination and sperm count is commonly done. In females, the basal body temperature is recorded each morning over several months to find any ovulatory disorders.
What female fertility tests are available? - Blood tests that measure the levels of various hormones. The doctor may want to measure the man's testosterone levels to see if they are high enough. Basal body temperature (BBT) can be measured at home using a special thermometer to help predict the most fertile days.
What male tertility tests are available? - A semen analysis is the most common testing procedure for determining if there is a male infertility factor. Semen analysis is the mainstay of male testing.
What treatments are available to cure infertility? - The ultimate goal of infertility treatment is a healthy pregnancy and the birth of one healthy infant. There are various treatments for infertility, depending what the problem is.
What is assisted reproductive technology (ART)? - Assisted reproductive technologies are medical treatments to overcome infertility. The most common type of ART is in vitro fertilization.
What are the treatments for female infertility? - Assisted reproductive technology (ART) combines the use of fertility drugs - hormonal therapy with artificial insemination using any of a group of techniques. Acupuncture may also be helpful.
What medicines treat female infertility? - Clomiphene triggers the release of FSH and LH, boosting egg growth and helping the ovaries release a monthly egg. Bromocriptine suppresses a hormone called prolactin. LH-RH drugs are used when the pituitary or hypothalamus gland is not producing hormones.
What are the treatments for male infertility? - Low sperm counts can be treated by collecting and concentrating healthy sperm for insemination or assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment.
How to prevent infertility? - Most types of infertility cannot be prevented. Smoking has been linked to low sperm counts. Alcohol affects the fertility of both men and women. Excessive exercise can lead to menstrual disorders in women and affect sperm production in men.
What is in vitro fertilization (IVF)? - In vitro fertilization (IVF) is the process used to conceive a child outside the body. In vitro fertilization is a method of assisted reproduction that involves removing eggs from a woman's ovary, combining the egg with sperm in a dish and replacing the resulting embryos in the woman's uterus.
What is intrauterine insemination (IUI)? - Intrauterine insemination is a procedure in which a fine catheter is inserted through the cervix into the uterus to deposit a sperm sample directly into the uterus.
What is gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT)? - Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) is an infertility treatment in which eggs are removed from a woman's ovaries, and placed in one of the fallopian tubes, along with the man's sperm.
What is intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)? - Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is an in vitro fertilisation procedure in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg.
What is zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT)? - Zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT) is technique in which a woman's egg is fertilized outside the body, then implanted in one of her fallopian tubes.
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