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Posted: Monday, June 10, 2024

Understanding Infertility

Infertility is a widespread issue that affects millions of couples worldwide, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to recognize it as a significant public health concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 million couples in the United States struggle with infertility, defined as the inability to conceive, even after a year of trying. As we honor Infertility Awareness Month in June, it’s important to recognize infertility is a reality many may face.

Female infertility can stem from various causes, ranging from hormonal imbalances to structural abnormalities within the reproductive system. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), diminished ovarian reserve and endometriosis are among the most common infertility culprits. PCOS, in particular, affects hormone levels and ovulation, making it the leading cause of infertility in women.

Damage to the fallopian tubes also can hinder fertility by preventing sperm from reaching the egg or impeding the fertilized egg's journey to the uterus. “Pelvic inflammatory disease is often caused by sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea or chlamydia,” explained Dr. Kimberly Ballard, obstetrician/gynecologist on the active medical staff at Blount Memorial Hospital. Previous abdominal surgeries also are common causes of tubal infertility. Similarly, endometriosis, a condition where uterine tissue grows outside the uterus, can lead to scarring and blockages in the fallopian tubes, impeding conception. Age also is a significant factor in female fertility, as the quality and quantity of eggs decline with age, particularly after the mid-30s.

Lifestyle factors in both men and women such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and obesity also can negatively impact fertility. "Something that most people don't realize is that infertility is not just a female issue. Approximately 40 percent of infertility is female in origin, 40 percent is male in origin. In only 10 percent, there are both male and female issues. Unfortunately, in the last 10 percent, there is never an identifiable cause. Most female infertility investigations can take place in your gynecologist's office, as well as most treatments. Some women will eventually be referred to a reproductive endocrinologist or the male partner referred to a urologist if initial treatments are unsuccessful," Ballard said.

Recognizing the signs of infertility and seeking timely medical intervention is important for couples struggling to conceive. The Mayo Clinic recommends consulting a health care provider if pregnancy has not occurred after a year of trying for couples under age 35, and after six months for couples over age 35. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve the chances of successful conception and minimize the emotional toll of infertility.

Fortunately, advancements in reproductive medicine offer a range of options for couples facing infertility. From fertility medications to assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), there are various approaches tailored to individual needs. Lifestyle modifications such as maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking and practicing safe sex can improve fertility outcomes.

Infertility is a complex and challenging issue, but with the right support and medical care, many couples can realize their dreams of starting a family. By increasing infertility awareness and offering comprehensive care, Blount Memorial Hospital can assist couples on their path to parenthood.

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