An easy overview of fertility in the UK

1 in 6 couplesIf you’re trying for a baby and are taking longer to conceive than you expected, there is a possibility you might be having an infertility issue. It is important to stress the word might, as sometimes Mother Nature decides to take her time over these matters. Infertility is defined as an inability to conceive, despite having regular, unprotected intercourse, for at least a year. If this is happening to you, it is important not to become stressed by the situation as this certainly will not help. It is also important to know that you are not at all unusual as this is quite a common problem.

Statistically, about one in six couples will experience infertility issues, with about 40% of cases attributed to the female and 40% being attributed to the male. The reason for the infertility is not discernible in the remaining 20% of cases.

Causes of infertility

If you are affected it is important to have a general understanding of the issue, as a number of factors can cause infertility in men and women.

What are the causes of infertility in women?

  • Tubal blockages. In women, infertility is usually caused by tubal blockage resulting from previous infections, scar tissue from surgery, polyps, fibroids, or endometriosis. If the fallopian tubes are blocked, eggs are unable to reach the uterus.
  • Hormonal issues. Hormones play a leading role in conception – synchronised hormonal changes lead to ovulation and the thickening of the uterine lining. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormone disorder that may lead to lack of ovulation, irregular periods, and, if left untreated, infertility.
  • Age. Even though modern day women are having babies later in life than ever before, age is still a limiting factor. Women are born with a finite number of eggs and the chances of having a baby reduce by 3 – 5% each year after passing the age of thirty.
  • Cervical problems. In some cases, there may be a condition present that is preventing sperm from passing through the cervical canal. This could be caused by scar tissue from surgery, abnormal mucus production, or an internal physical deformity.
  • Uterine causes. If a fertilised egg is unable to implant in the uterus, there could be a physical problem. Uterine abnormalities may be congenital (since birth) or develop over time from the growth of polyps or fibroids, or scar tissue from infection or surgery.

And what about the guys?

  • Low sperm count. A low sperm count simply means that the man isn’t producing enough viable sperm. Doctors will analyse the sperm and semen to assess the sperm count, the sperm shape, movement, and other variables.
  • Immunological disorders. In some cases, men make antibodies against their own sperm. These anti-sperm antibodies actually attack the sperm while on the way to the egg, much like white blood cells do with infection.
  • Ejaculatory problems. Some men suffer from retrograde ejaculation, a condition in which sperm ejaculates backwards, into the bladder. This is typically caused by previous surgery and can be corrected by a surgical procedure.
  • Structural abnormalities and obstruction. In cases of azoospermia, when no semen or sperm is present, it may suggest a blockage, usually caused by infection or previous surgery. It can be corrected with a surgical procedure. A greater problem can occur for some men that are born without a vas deferens, the pipeline through which the sperm travels to the ejaculatory ducts. The sperm is still produced but it has no way out of the body. This unfortunately acts like a natural vasectomy.

The good news is that with the sophisticated medical science now available, 85% of couples are soon able to establish the root cause of their inability to have a baby. Advice then has to be taken from the medical specialist as to the best course of action to be taken to address the problem.