Infertility is a condition of the reproductive system that prevents the conception of children. 1 in 6 Irish couples will have difficulty conceiving on their own and will have to seek professional help and advice.
Conception and pregnancy are complicated processes that depend upon a number of factors, including: 1) the production of healthy sperm by the man, 2) healthy eggs produced by the woman; 3) unblocked fallopian tubes that allow the sperm to reach the egg; 4) the sperm’s ability to fertilize the egg when they meet; 5) the ability of the fertilized egg (embryo) to become implanted in the woman’s uterus; and, 6) sufficient embryo quality. Finally, for the pregnancy to progress to full term the embryo must be healthy and the woman’s hormonal environment adequate for its development. If just one of these factors are impaired, infertility can be the result.
It is a common assumption that infertility is primarily related to the woman however in reality, only one-third of infertility cases are related to the woman alone. Statistically, one-third of infertility problems are related to men and the remaining one-third is a combination of fertility factors involving both partners and unknown causes. Unknown causes account for approximately twenty percent of infertility cases. There are many variables and different conditions that can affect a couple’s fertility and a number of these relate to lifestyle as well as physical or medical conditions.
- Damaged or blocked Fallopian tubes
- Ovulation Difficulties / Early menopause
- Abnormalities in the cervix or uterus
- Low sperm count
- Poor sperm motility
- Malformed sperm
- Blocked sperm ducts
- Smoking / Alcohol
- Infection / STD’s like Chlamydia
Stress does not cause infertility, but may delay ovulation by the suppression of hormones needed for a healthy conception and pregnancy. A recent study showed that women who were the most anxious and depressed prior to their IVF treatment cycle were 93% less likely to conceive than the least distressed women. Other research (Skillman, NJ Oct.19,2009), has shown that women who participated in a stress management programme prior to or during IVF treatment had a 52% greater pregnancy rate than women who did not participate in the programme (American Society of Reproductive Medicine’s 65th Annual Meeting).
In Ireland we are starting our families much later in life for a variety of reasons and unfortunately the downside of this growing trend is the rise in age related fertility problems. Women reach their fertile peak in their 20′s and experts say that chances of conceiving decline with age, particularly after the age of 35, it is usually at 0% over the age of 45. For age related infertility problems there are a variety of treatments available. The risk of miscarriage is also increased with age (the risk of miscarriage at age 25-29 years is 10% while the risk at age 40-44 is 34%). Also advanced maternal age is associated with an increased risk of congenital abnormalities in any resulting children. Age related fertility problems not only has normal emotional responses to infertility but for some there is extra guilt or anger around why they waited. Age also has an effect on men’s fertility, age affects sperm and coital frequency but men’s age is not as high a factor as it is for women.
When should we seek medical conception help?
It is recommended for couples where the women under 35 years of age to begin testing after trying to conceive unsuccessfully for 12 months. The recommendation for couples where the women is over 35 years is to begin testing after trying to conceive unsuccessfully for 6 months.
Symptoms & Effects
- Couples will often feel a sense of loss and disappointment
- Lack of energy (especially when you have an unsuccessful cycle
- Headaches / irritability / Insomnia
- Extreme sadness
- Inability to concentrate
- Feeling shocked or numb after unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant or stay pregnant / feeling angry, vulnerable, helpless over your life plan
- Shame and a sense of inadequacy, defectiveness and helplessness.
- Anguish, self-doubt, chronic sadness and feeling a failure