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What is infertility ?

Infertility is the term given to describe a couple that has never been able to conceive a pregnancy, usually after a minimum of 1 year of attempting to do so through unprotected intercourse.

Many couples wrongly believe that it is easy to conceive and don’t understand that pregnancy is normally a matter of chance.

Even if the egg and sperm are in the right place at the right time there is no guarantee that pregnancy will occur. Some couples will conceive immediately and for others it can take months. Failure to conceive could just be a case of bad timing, e.g. not having sexual intercourse when the women is ovulating .

It has been estimated there are approximately one in seven couples in the U.K. that have fertility problems. Usually 40-50% of problems lie with the female, 30-40% with the male, the remaining 10-30% may be caused by contributing factors from both partners or the cause may never be known. In some situations the high fertility of one partner can compensate for the low fertility of the other. Very few couples are actually totally infertile, but instead sub-fertile – taking more than a year to conceive.

Female infertility

One of the most important factors that effects female fertility is age. Female fertility slowly begins to decrease around the age of 25, then after the age of 35 fertility will usually begin to decrease relatively quickly until the women reaches menopause. Many women become obsessed and sometimes ill with the desire to conceive. Surprisingly it is when they become more relaxed about the situation (and give up hope), conception usually occurs.

Other causes of female infertility include:

  • Problems with ovulationthe first stage of pregnancy is when the egg is released in ovulation. If the hormones that control ovulation become unbalanced then the system may not work as it should. Severe weight loss, illness and emotional problems can all affect ovulation. If you have irregular or few periods this could indicate a problem with ovulation.
  • Damaged fallopian tubes – once the egg has been released, it must travel through the fallopian tubes. Problems will arise if there is a blockage or scarring in the fallopian tube. This damage may be caused by a sexually transmitted disease that you may have had in the past or are currently infected with. A lot of sexually transmitted diseases show no symptoms.
  • Mucus disorder – some women have antibodies in their cervical mucus that can kill their partner’s sperm before it is able to swim through to the womb (uterus).
  • Endometriosis – a condition in which fragments of the endometrium (womb lining) break away and lodge elsewhere in the body.
  • Use of certain medication – always check with your doctor before taking any medication, many medicines can reduce your fertility and potentially harm an unborn baby.

Fertilisation may fail to occur for a variety of reasons not just those mentioned above. However, the majority of problems can be overcome with medical treatment which you doctor will be happy to discuss and explain.

We offer a range of fertility tests on this website, for more information click here.

Male infertility

The main causes of male infertility are:

  • Production of sperm – problems can occur if the man has very low sperm levels or if there is a physical obstruction at some point in the male reproductive system.
  • Impotence – the failure to achieve and maintain an erection will prevent or make sexual intercourse difficult.
  • Environmental factors – smoking, drugs and alcohol consumption can damage sperm. Also if you work with certain chemicals, lead or radiation for example your fertility could be damaged. If you are unsure about the chemicals or substances that you work with, ask your doctor or occupational health nurse for advice.
  • Illness – illnesses such as mumps can cause a low sperm count. Sexually transmitted diseases can also effect the production of sperm.
  • Frequency of sex – the frequency of ejaculation will affect the number of sperm contained in a man’s ejaculate. A man should abstain from ejaculation a few days before a woman’s fertile period to improve the quality and quantity of sperm.

Like female fertility problems, most male problems can be overcome with medical treatment. After obtaining a medical history and performing a physical examination, a doctor will request a semen analysis. From this sample he will be able to determine any abnormalities and decide on further treatment. We have a male fertility test available on this website, which can determine male fertility potential from the privacy of your home.

What can you do to maximise fertility?

Your chances of conceiving can be affected by your general health and lifestyle.

By stopping smoking you will increase your chances of becoming pregnant and it will also decrease the risk of miscarriage and bleeding in pregnancy.

Alcohol consumption can cause a reduction in fertility and therefore should be limited if not stopped.

A good balanced diet and exercise is also very important. A healthy diet should include plenty of: brown bread, pasta, fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, white meat, rice and low fat dairy products. However, ease up on intense exercise, men who exercise excessively may reduce their sperm count. You should also start to take folic acid.

Your general health is at risk if you suffer from stress and anxiety. In women, stress can prevent ovulation occurring and in men, it can affect their sperm production and encourage premature ejaculation and impotence.

Have a full sexual health check to ensure you have no infections. If you haven’t had a cervical screen recently then you should also have one of these.

Ensure you are having sexual intercourse at the right time to maximise the chances of you getting pregnant. For more information on ovulation, click here.

An old theory is to have sex at midnight, ovulation is more likely to happen around this hour.

For more information on infertility treatments available click here.