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Infertility has traditionally been diagnosed when a couple has been trying to conceive without conception for one year. Reasons to seek a fertility consultation prior to trying for a year include known or suspected problems with fertility, such as issues with the male partner’s sperm and irregular or anovulatory menstrual cycles.

Possible causes of infertility

There are many possible causes of infertility, but the primary causes include ovulation dysfunction, in which the woman does not release an egg every month in the normal time frame. Cycles that are over 35 days in length, irregular cycles, or not having a cycle that results in menstrual periods fall into the category of ovulation dysfunction. The most common cause of ovulation dysfunction is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS, but other causes include hormonal abnormalities such as thyroid disease and over-production of prolactin.

Tubal factor is another common cause of infertility in which one or both fallopian tubes are blocked or damaged. The fallopian tubes are responsible for picking up the egg that is released from the ovary at ovulation, and it is the site where the egg is fertilized by the sperm. The fertilized egg or embryo is then transported by the fallopian tube into the uterine cavity, where it can implant and form a normal pregnancy. If the tubes are blocked or damaged, the normal pick-up, fertilization, or transportation process can be obstructed, leading to either infertility or ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. Inflammation from endometriosis can cause scarring or adhesions around the tubes or can result in the complete blockage of one or both tubes.

Male factor refers to when the sperm count, motility, or morphology (shape), prevents sufficient sperm from getting to the fallopian tubes and fertilizing the egg. Up to 35% of couples with infertility suffer from some degree of male factor. Male factor is determined by the evaluation of a semen analysis or sperm count. If abnormal, an examination with a urologist is often advised. Treatments including intrauterine insemination (IUI), in which sperm is concentrated and placed into the uterus through a simple vaginal exam, or intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), an IVF procedure in which a single sperm is injected into an egg will successfully treat nearly all cases of male factor infertility.

Unexplained infertility is the fourth main category of infertility causes. Unexplained infertility is assigned when all the initial testing for ovulation, tubal patency, and male factor returns as normal. Fertility treatment can be quite successful for unexplained infertility, and the approach is often directed by the women’s age, ovarian reserve testing, and how long the couple has been trying to conceive.

Our Male Reproductive Health Specialist

Eric K. Seaman, MD

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