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What is Infertility: Its Causes, Symptoms, Types, Diagnosis, and Treatment?

What is Infertility: Its Causes, Symptoms, Types, Diagnosis, and Treatment?

What is Infertility?

Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive a child after at least one year of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse. It can also refer to the inability to carry a pregnancy to term. Both men and women can experience infertility, and it can be caused by a variety of factors related to reproductive health, hormones, lifestyle, and genetics. Infertility can be temporary or permanent, and it can affect individuals or couples. It's important to note that infertility does not necessarily mean sterility, as many people with infertility issues can still conceive with medical assistance or other interventions.

Causes of infertility

The causes of infertility can vary widely and may involve one or both partners. 
Here are some common causes:

  • Ovulation Disorders: Problems with ovulation are one of the most common causes of infertility in women. Conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, and premature ovarian failure can affect ovulation.
  • Fallopian Tube Blockage or Damage: Blockages or damage to the fallopian tubes can prevent the egg from being fertilized by sperm or hinder the embryo's movement to the uterus for implantation. This can result from pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), endometriosis, or previous pelvic surgeries.
  • Uterine or Cervical Issues: Abnormalities in the uterus or cervix, such as fibroids, polyps, or cervical stenosis, can interfere with implantation or the passage of sperm through the cervix.
  • Endometriosis: Endometriosis occurs when the tissue lining the uterus grows outside of it, often affecting the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other pelvic organs. This condition can lead to inflammation, scarring, and fertility problems.
  • Male Factor Infertility: Issues with sperm production, motility, or function can contribute to infertility in men. These problems may result from genetic factors, hormonal imbalances, infections, or lifestyle factors such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Unexplained Infertility: In some cases, despite thorough evaluation, the cause of infertility remains unknown. This can be frustrating for couples but is relatively common.
  • Age: Advanced maternal age is a significant factor in female infertility, as fertility declines with age due to a decrease in the quantity and quality of eggs. Male fertility can also decline with age, although less dramatically.
  • Lifestyle Factors: Certain lifestyle choices can impact fertility, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, drug use, obesity, and extreme stress. Environmental factors like exposure to toxins or radiation may also play a role.

Genetic Factors: In rare cases, genetic abnormalities can affect reproductive health and fertility in both men and women.

Symptoms of infertility

Infertility itself is not typically characterized by noticeable symptoms, and many individuals may not realize they have fertility issues until they attempt to conceive without success. However, some underlying conditions or factors associated with infertility may present symptoms. Here are some signs and symptoms that may indicate potential fertility issues:

  • Irregular Menstrual Cycles: Women with irregular menstrual cycles, either consistently long or short cycles, or those who experience absent or infrequent periods, may have ovulation disorders that could contribute to infertility.
  • Painful Menstruation: Severe menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) or pelvic pain during menstruation may be associated with conditions such as endometriosis, which can affect fertility.
  • Abnormal Bleeding: Unusual bleeding patterns, such as heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia), spotting between periods, or bleeding after intercourse, may indicate underlying issues affecting fertility.
  • Hormonal Changes: Symptoms of hormonal imbalances, such as changes in libido, acne, hair loss or growth, and weight fluctuations, may suggest disruptions in reproductive function.
  • Painful Intercourse: Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse (dyspareunia) can be a sign of conditions such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), or vaginal infections that may affect fertility.
  • Changes in Male Sexual Function: Men may experience symptoms such as erectile dysfunction, ejaculatory disorders, or changes in libido, which could indicate issues with sperm production or function.
  • Testicular Abnormalities: Any abnormalities in the testicles, such as swelling, lumps, or pain, may suggest underlying conditions affecting sperm production or quality.
  • Recurrent Miscarriages: Couples who experience recurrent pregnancy loss (two or more consecutive miscarriages) may have underlying fertility issues that warrant investigation.
  • Family History of Infertility or Genetic Disorders: A family history of infertility, reproductive problems, or genetic disorders may increase the likelihood of fertility issues in individuals or couples.
  • Lifestyle Factors: Certain lifestyle factors, such as obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, drug use, or exposure to environmental toxins, may impact fertility and could manifest in related symptoms.

 Diagnosis of infertility

The diagnosis of infertility typically involves a comprehensive evaluation of both partners to identify any underlying factors contributing to difficulties conceiving. 
Here are the key steps and diagnostic tests commonly used in the diagnosis of infertility:

  • Medical History and Physical Examination: The healthcare provider will review the medical history of both partners, including any previous pregnancies, medical conditions, surgeries, medications, and lifestyle factors. A physical examination may also be conducted to assess reproductive organs and identify any abnormalities.
  • Ovulation Testing: For women, ovulation testing may involve tracking menstrual cycles, monitoring basal body temperature, or using ovulation predictor kits to determine if ovulation is occurring regularly.
  • Semen Analysis: A semen analysis is a standard test to evaluate the quantity, quality, and motility of sperm in a man's semen. It helps identify potential issues with sperm production or function.
  • Hormone Testing: Blood tests may be performed to measure hormone levels in both partners. For women, hormone testing can assess ovarian function, including levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), estradiol, and anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH). In men, hormone testing may evaluate testosterone levels and other hormones involved in sperm production.
  • Ovarian Reserve Testing: Ovarian reserve testing assesses a woman's remaining egg supply and can help predict her fertility potential. Tests such as antral follicle count (AFC) via ultrasound, AMH levels, and day 3 FSH levels may be used for this purpose.
  • Hysterosalpingography (HSG): HSG is a radiologic procedure used to evaluate the structure of the uterus and fallopian tubes. It involves injecting a contrast dye into the uterus and taking X-ray images to identify any blockages or abnormalities.
  • Transvaginal Ultrasound: This imaging technique allows visualization of the pelvic organs, including the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. It can help detect conditions such as ovarian cysts, fibroids, or abnormalities in the uterine lining.
  • Laparoscopy: In some cases, a minimally invasive surgical procedure called laparoscopy may be performed to directly visualize the pelvic organs and identify any abnormalities such as endometriosis, adhesions, or tubal blockages.
  • Genetic Testing: Genetic testing may be recommended in cases of suspected genetic disorders or recurrent pregnancy loss.
  • Specialized Tests: Depending on individual circumstances, additional tests such as endometrial biopsy, post-coital test, or genetic screening may be recommended.

Types of infertility

Infertility can manifest in various forms, depending on the underlying factors contributing to difficulties conceiving. 
Herein, you will find a compilation of common infertility types.

  • Primary Infertility: Primary infertility refers to the inability to conceive a first child after at least one year of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse. It may involve one or both partners.
  • Secondary Infertility: Secondary infertility occurs when a couple has previously conceived and carried a pregnancy to term but is unable to conceive again after at least one year of trying. This can be due to changes in reproductive health, age-related factors, or other issues.
  • Male Infertility: Male infertility involves difficulties with sperm production, function, or delivery that hinder conception. Common causes include low sperm count (oligospermia), poor sperm motility (asthenospermia), abnormal sperm morphology, ejaculatory disorders, or genetic factors.
  • Female Infertility: Female infertility encompasses various conditions or factors that affect a woman's ability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term. This can include ovulation disorders, blocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), uterine abnormalities, or hormonal imbalances.
  • Unexplained Infertility: In some cases, despite thorough evaluation, the cause of infertility remains unknown. This is termed unexplained infertility and can be frustrating for couples. It may involve subtle or undetectable factors affecting fertility in one or both partners.
  • Combined Infertility: Combined infertility occurs when both partners contribute to difficulties conceiving. This could involve a combination of male and female factors, such as sperm abnormalities in conjunction with ovulation disorders or tubal blockages.
  • Age-Related Infertility: Advanced maternal age is a significant factor in female infertility, as fertility declines with age due to a decrease in the quantity and quality of eggs. Male fertility can also decline with age, although less dramatically.
  • Secondary Infertility in Menopause: Secondary infertility can occur in women who have entered menopause, either naturally or surgically. Menopause marks the end of a woman's reproductive years and typically results in the cessation of menstrual cycles and ovulation.

 Treatment of infertility 

The treatment of infertility depends on the underlying cause or causes identified through diagnostic testing. 
Here are some common treatment options for infertility:

  •  Lifestyle Modifications: Making healthy lifestyle changes can improve fertility for both men and women. This may include maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, managing stress, and avoiding exposure to environmental toxins.
  • Medications: Fertility medications may be prescribed to address specific issues such as ovulation disorders, hormonal imbalances, or to stimulate egg production in women. Common medications include clomiphene citrate, letrozole, gonadotropins, and metformin.
  •  Surgery: Surgical procedures may be recommended to correct structural abnormalities or conditions that affect fertility. For example, surgery can be performed to remove uterine fibroids, repair blocked fallopian tubes, treat endometriosis, or correct anatomical issues in the reproductive organs.
  •  Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART): ART procedures are advanced fertility treatments that involve the manipulation of eggs, sperm, or embryos to facilitate conception. Common ART options include:

• In vitro fertilization (IVF): IVF involves fertilizing eggs with sperm outside the body in a laboratory setting and then transferring the resulting embryos into the uterus.
• Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI): ICSI is a variation of IVF in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg to facilitate fertilization, often used in cases of male factor infertility.
• Intrauterine insemination (IUI): IUI involves placing sperm directly into the uterus around the time of ovulation to increase the chances of conception.

  • Donor Conception: In cases where there are severe male factor infertility, absence of eggs, or other fertility challenges, donor eggs, sperm, or embryos may be used to achieve pregnancy through IVF.
  • Surrogacy: Surrogacy involves a woman carrying and giving birth to a baby on behalf of another individual or couple. This may be an option for individuals or couples who are unable to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term due to medical reasons.
  • Genetic Testing and Screening: Genetic testing may be recommended to identify genetic abnormalities or chromosomal disorders that could affect fertility or increase the risk of passing on genetic conditions to offspring. Pre-implantation genetic testing (PGT) can be performed on embryos created through IVF to screen for genetic disorders before implantation.
  • Alternative and Complementary Therapies: Some individuals may explore alternative or complementary therapies such as acupuncture, herbal supplements, dietary changes, or mind-body practices to support fertility treatment or address underlying health issues.

Apollo SAGE Fertility: Best IVF Treatment and Fertility Hospital in India

Apollo SAGE Fertility care is dedicated to offering a range of specialized investigative procedures for infertility in both men and women, ensuring that couples have the highest possible chance of achieving a successful pregnancy. With a remarkable 40-year history of clinical excellence and unparalleled expertise, Apollo Fertility care takes pride in bringing hope and happiness to over 30,000 couples across India. Our centers strive to make fertility treatment of international standards accessible to every individual.


What is normal fertility?
Answer: Normal fertility is defined as the ability to produce an ongoing pregnancy without medical assistance and within a reasonable time; this is usually within one year of regular unprotected intercourse for couples under the age of 35, and within six months for those aged over 35. This includes having regular ovulatory cycles and producing normal sperm.

How do I know if I'm infertile?
Answer: They could include irregular periods, changes of hormonal levels, painful periods, erectile dysfunction, ejaculation problems in men, previous STIs or pelvic infections, difficulty getting pregnant after a year (or six months if over 35) and, with any of these, the need to consult a doctor.

What causes infertility? 
Answer: People can have infertility for different reasons, including imbalances in hormones, unable to ovulate, blocked fallopian tubes, problems with the uterus, endometriosis, problems with sperm, having erectile dysfunction, pelvic infections, women’s fertility declines with ageing, genetic factors, problems related to lifestyle, like smoking, too much alcohol, being overweight, and some medical conditions or medicines or treatments, like cancer medicines and surgeries.

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