Understanding Infertility

One in eight U.S. couples experience difficulty conceiving. Learn what can cause or contribute to it here. 

Expert Advice 

“As a fertility specialist, my role is to show patients what their options are given their unique clinical situation. We want to give people a chance to compare everything they bring to the table – emotionally, ethically, and RinkMurrayfinancially – and proceed with the option that makes
the most sense for them. Five couples with the same issues may choose very different paths. I view myself as an information resource for helping patients make the best possible decision. I like to ask patients: if the treatment fails, will you still be glad you tried? Often, that helps people clarify in their own minds what they really want to do.” – Rink Murray, MD, OB-GYN,
Reproductive Endocrinologist, Tennessee Reproductive Medicine.

Considered a disease of the reproductive system, infertility is defined as the inability to achieve pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular, unprotected sex (or after 6 months if the woman is older than 35).

Fertility 101

To best understand infertility, it can be helpful to begin by outlining what is necessary for fertility. In order to conceive, three things are required:

Male sperm. A man must have healthy sperm production and have no functional problems with the delivery of sperm.

The ability to ovulate. A woman’s ovaries must have the ability to release an egg.

One open fallopian tube. A woman must have one fallopian tube open to allow sperm to travel up the reproductive tract to the uterine cavity.

If these elements are present, it is possible for a woman to get pregnant.

Factors That Contribute

Other factors that influence fertility rates include:

A woman’s age. A woman is born with all of the eggs she will ever have, and her body will typically use (or ovulate) its best eggs first. As she ages, both egg count and egg quality decrease.

Polyps and fibroids. These benign (non-cancerous) uterine growths can interfere with a woman’s ability to conceive.

Endometriosis. This is a condition in which tissue from the uterine lining grows outside the uterus, on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and/or bowel.

How long it has been. Research shows that the longer a couple has gone without getting pregnant, the less likely it will happen on its own.

Learning Your Options:

If a couple is struggling with infertility, a reproductive medicine specialist, or fertility specialist, will begin by taking a thorough medical history and doing a physical exam in order to look for any of the factors above. After assessing your results, he or she will then talk to you about the best treatments or procedures to increase your odds. Treatments range from fertility drugs, which work by inducing ovulation, to in vitro fertilization, which involves the fertilization of collected eggs and sperm in a lab and the implantation of embryos into a woman’s uterus.