How Common Is Infertility?
Infertility is typically defined as an inability to get pregnant after at least a year of regular, unprotected sex. In the United States, at least 1 in 10 couples struggle with infertility. Infertility can be caused by a number of different factors. Often, not being able to get pregnant is the first and only visible symptom of infertility. However, thanks to today’s advanced infertility treatments, many couples who struggle with infertility are still eventually able to conceive.
Infertility: Who is to blame?
About one-third of the time, infertility is due to problems in the male partner. One-third of infertility is due to issues with the female partner. In the rest of cases, infertility is the result of fertility problems in both the female and male partners or the cause of infertility is simply unknown.
Health conditions like endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can all affect a woman’s fertility. In men, undescended testicles, celiac disease, and certain surgeries can cause problems with fertility. In both sexes, sexually transmitted diseases and certain infections can cause infertility problems.
Infertility is not the end of the road
Infertility affects millions of Americans. However, about half of infertile couples still are ultimately able to conceive through fertility treatments. There are many assisted reproductive technologies and fertility treatments that can help infertile couples have a baby. Some of the most popular infertility treatment options include:
- Fertility drugs
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI)
- In vitro fertilization (IVF)
- Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)
- Donor eggs, sperm, and embryos
The first line of infertility treatment
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is an infertility treatment that involves placing washed sperm directly in the uterus. Often, if the cause of infertility is unknown, IUI is the first recommended treatment. IUI is non-invasive, causes minimal discomfort, requires no pain medications, and the procedure only takes a couple of minutes in the doctor’s office.
IUI is recommended for males who have slow swimmers, meaning they have sub-optimal sperm movement or low sperm count. The sperm washing process boosts chances of conception. IUI is also recommended for women who are infertile due to endometriosis, thick cervical mucus, or who have a semen allergy.
Is IUI the same as the turkey baster method?
A common myth about IUI is that sperm can be placed with a turkey baster. This is not quite true. Couples can start with trying to place the sperm themselves with a needleless syringe at home. However, with this DIY method, the sperm is placed near the cervix, not in the uterus, and is called intracervical insemination (ICI). IUI is an in-office procedure done at the fertility clinic.
Success rates for artificial insemination are the same as having intercourse. IUI can be a good treatment option for couples who are dealing with low sperm count or thick cervical mucus. However, couples who have more complex, diagnosed infertility problems will need to look into more involved treatments.
The most effective infertility treatment
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a more complex treatment than IUI, but it is the most popular and most effective form of assisted reproductive technology. For women under the age of 35, IVF has a 40% success rate. As technology continues to improve and techniques are refined, those success rates are only going up.
What to expect from IVF
IVF involves an egg retrieval procedure where a doctor removes eggs with a hollow needle. Usually, prior to egg retrieval, a woman undergoes a series of hormone injections. These injections are to ensure that she produces multiple eggs per month instead of just one.
After the egg retrieval, eggs are mixed with sperm in a laboratory setting. This is what couples often call the waiting period. The fertilized eggs are kept under observation until they turn into viable embryos, which can take up to 5 days. Any viable embryos are then transferred into a woman’s uterus with the hope that the embryos will attach and cause a pregnancy.
How popular is IVF? Does it really work?
The most recent data from 2012 showed that doctors performed over 165,000 yearly IVF cycles, resulting in over 61,000 babies. IVF can be used with the couples’ own sperm and eggs or with donor sperm or donor eggs. Couples using IVF can also choose to use a surrogate carrier, particularly in cases where the female partner is at high risk of miscarriage or other complications.
ICSI: Options for when IVF doesn’t take
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is an additional procedure that can be added on to assisted reproductive technology treatments. ICSI is most effective in cases of male factor infertility. However, even if no known male factor infertility is present, ICSI may be recommended if initial rounds of IVF have been unsuccessful.
In basic IVF procedures, eggs and sperm are mixed in a dish with the hope that the sperm will fertilize the egg. In ICSI, a single sperm is injected directly into the egg, which means that the sperm doesn’t need to break through the egg’s wall. Because ICSI ensures that sperm gets directly into the egg, chances of fertilization are extremely high.
Couples with infertility don’t need to lose hope
Infertility can be challenging for couples. While this situation can be emotionally, mentally, and financially tiring. However, couples should not lose hope. There are many treatment options for infertility, and many infertile couples are eventually able to still have a healthy baby.