February 20, 2010
Infertility is a growing problem that unfortunately too many couples experience during their reproductive years. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after a year of regular unprotected intercourse. Interestingly, couples with absolutely no fertility issues still are only able to successfully conceive during the first year of unprotected intercourse 25% of the time. Nonetheless, recent studies suggest that infertility is a growing issue with the most recent data suggesting that in 1997, 9% of adults in reproductive age were infertile while in 2002, that value had increased to 11.5%. A common misconception is that infertility is most often a “female issue,” but in fact infertility is equally attributable to men as well, with 50% of infertility a result of poor sperm quality/quantity. Be this as it may, the complexities of a woman’s hormone cycle and anatomy often presents more of a clinical challenge in finding successful treatment options. This article will focus on female fertility issues, but please recognize that in all cases of infertility, the male must also be tested.
The most common reasons for fertility issues in women include age, anatomical problems and ovulatory irregularities. More specifically, once a woman has reached the age of 35 and into her early 40s, her likelihood of successfully conceiving decreases by 33-50%. Blocked fallopian tubes, thick cervical mucus and polycystic ovarian syndrome create physical barriers that prevent sperm from reaching the awaiting egg. More commonly, however, hormonal imbalances leading to issues with ovulation prevent successful conception.
Plenty of Hope Out There
Many couples are quickly discouraged by troubles conceiving and lose hope. However, with treatment, over 85% of couples that have experienced fertility issues in the past can successfully conceive. Within my practice I have had the honor of working with a number of couples through their fertility woes and have found three focus areas that have lead to dozens of successful pregnancies.
First, proper lifestyle modifications need to be the foundation. Reduction and ultimately the elimination of alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and exogenous sources of estrogens (plastics and pesticides) need to occur. It is well documented that these chemicals have a dramatic effect on fertility and in fact, a few recent studies have shown that smoking can precipitate early menopause.
Hormone balancing is another important aspect in improving fertility. There are a number of testing methods out there, but blood tests during specific times of your menstrual cycle can be a highly diagnostic means to understanding what may be going wrong. Whether the issue arises from a lack of a specific hormone, an excess of another or an overall imbalance in the complete hormone cornucopia, blood tests can be a great place to start. Occasionally I find that some women need to be tested during different stages of their menstrual cycle, usually days 3, 10 and 18, with day 1 being the first day of their period.