It’s National Infertility Awareness Week (NIWA) – an initiative aimed at raising awareness about infertility and its impact on individuals, couples, and families. 

Infertility is more than a medical diagnosis; it’s a deeply personal journey filled with highs and lows, hope and despair. Fertility struggles can often feel isolating — however, National Infertility Awareness Week is a time for everyone to understand that infertility is not a taboo subject.  It’s an issue that deserves open, honest conversations and support. 

What is Infertility? 

In simple terms, infertility refers to the inability to conceive a child after regular, unprotected intercourse for an extended period, typically one year or more.  
Infertility symptoms include:  

  • Inability to conceive: If you have been actively trying to conceive for at least one year (or six months if you are over 35) without success, it may indicate infertility. 
  • Irregular menstrual cycles: Women with irregular periods or a lack of menstruation (amenorrhea) may have underlying hormonal imbalances or reproductive disorders affecting fertility. 
  • Painful periods: Severe menstrual cramps, pelvic pain, or other discomfort during menstruation may be a sign of conditions such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can impact fertility. 
  • Hormonal imbalances: Symptoms such as excessive hair growth (hirsutism), acne, or changes in libido in women, or decreased facial or body hair, gynecomastia (enlarged breast tissue), or a lack of muscle mass in men, may indicate hormonal imbalances affecting fertility. 

While these are common infertility symptoms for women, it’s crucial to understand that inability to conceive is not solely a female issue. Male factor infertility contributes significantly to the overall prevalence.  

Common Causes of Fertility Issues: 

  1. Ovulation Disorders: PCOS and infertility are synonymous with one another, as conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can disrupt regular ovulation in women, preventing the release of mature eggs necessary for conception. 
  1. Fallopian Tube Blockage: Blockages or damage to the fallopian tubes can prevent the egg from traveling to the uterus or obstruct the sperm’s journey to meet the egg, leading to fertility issues. 
  1. Endometriosis: Endometriosis is a condition that occurs when the tissue lining the uterus grows outside of it, often causing inflammation, scarring, and fertility issues. 
  1. Fibroids: Fibroids can cause infertility by distorting the shape of the uterus, blocking the fallopian tubes, or interfering with the implantation of a fertilized egg. 
  1. Adenomyosis: Adenomyosis can cause infertility by disrupting the normal architecture of the uterus, leading to impaired implantation of embryos and increased risk of miscarriage. 
  1. Age: Both men and women’s fertility decline as they age, with women facing a more significant decrease in fertility after the age of 35. 
  1. Lifestyle Factors: Habits like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, drug use, obesity, and exposure to environmental toxins can affect fertility in both men and women. 
  1. Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, and autoimmune diseases can affect fertility and reproductive health. 
  1. Sperm Disorders: Problems with sperm count, motility (movement), or morphology (shape) in men can significantly impact fertility, making it difficult for sperm to reach and fertilize an egg. 

Prevalence of Fertility Issues: 

Issues with fertility is far from being a unique problem. 

  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 15% of couples around the globe struggle with fertility 
  • In the United States, approximately 10-15% of couples of reproductive age have difficulties getting pregnant or staying pregnant, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 
  • Male factor infertility contributes to approximately 40-50% of infertility cases, that is why it is so important to also address male reproductive health. 
  • Female factor infertility accounts for about 30-40% of cases, with factors like problems with ovulation and fallopian tube issues playing significant roles. 
  • In roughly 10-20% of cases, infertility is attributed to both male and female factors or remains unexplained despite thorough evaluation. 

What is included in fertility evaluation? 

Fertility evaluation is a detailed process conducted by healthcare professionals such as the ones on the Viva Eve integrated team to identify the underlying causes of a couple’s inability to conceive. This evaluation typically involves a series of tests and assessments that examine the reproductive health of both partners. Here’s an overview of what the fertility evaluation process may entail: 

Initial Consultation: 

  1. Medical History: The healthcare provider will gather information about the couple’s medical history, including any pre-existing conditions, surgeries, medications, and lifestyle factors that may impact fertility. 
  1. Lifestyle Factors: Discussion about habits such as smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, exercise, and exposure to environmental toxins, which can affect fertility. 

Female Evaluation: 

  1. Ovulation Assessment: Testing may include tracking menstrual cycles, hormone level assessments (such as progesterone levels), and/or ovulation predictor kits. 
  1. Pelvic Exam: A physical examination to check for abnormalities in the reproductive organs. 
  1. Ovarian Reserve Testing: Assessments to determine the quantity and quality of a woman’s eggs, which may include blood tests for hormone levels (e.g., AMH, FSH) and ultrasound imaging (antral follicle count). 
  1. Hysterosalpingography (HSG): An X-ray procedure to examine the uterus and fallopian tubes for any blockages or abnormalities. 

Male Evaluation: 

  1. Semen Analysis: A laboratory test to evaluate the quality, quantity, and movement of sperm in a semen sample. 
  1. Physical Examination: Assessment of the male reproductive organs for any structural abnormalities or signs of underlying conditions. 

Additional Testing: 

  1. Genetic Testing: Screening for genetic disorders that may affect fertility or increase the risk of miscarriage. 
  1. Imaging Studies: Depending on individual circumstances, imaging tests such as pelvic ultrasound or MRI may be recommended to further assess reproductive organs. 
  1. Hormonal Testing: Blood tests to evaluate hormone levels, including thyroid function, prolactin, and testosterone. 
  1. Endometrial Biopsy: A procedure to sample the uterine lining for abnormalities or to assess whether the uterus is ready for embryo implantation. 

Ways to cope: 

In support of National Infertility Awareness Week, here are some simple yet important things to do and remember for couples and individuals affected by inability to get pregnant: 

Seek Support: Don’t hesitate to reach out to family, friends, or support groups. Sharing your journey with others who understand can provide comfort and strength. 

Educate Yourself: Take the time to learn about causes of fertility issues (such as PCOS and infertility) treatment options, and available resources. Recognize infertility symptoms and share with others. Knowledge empowers you to make informed decisions and advocate for your needs. 

Seek Professional Help: Consult with healthcare professionals specializing in fertility. They can provide personalized guidance, diagnostic testing, and treatment options tailored to your needs. 

Practice Self-Care: Make self-care a priority. Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, whether it’s exercise, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones. 

Consider Counseling: Individual or couples counseling can offer emotional support and coping strategies as you navigate the ups and downs of fertility journey. 

Be Patient: Understand that the journey to parenthood may take time, and setbacks are normal. Practice patience and resilience, knowing that you’re taking steps forward, no matter how small. 

Stay Connected: Lean on your support network, stay connected with your partner or loved ones, and remain hopeful together. Remember that you’re not alone, and there are people who care about you and your journey. 

Our Viva Eve Ob/Gyn care team is here to support you throughout your journey with our fertility planning services and Obstetric care.

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