Infertility is defined as being unable to get pregnant after 12 months of regular, unprotected sex. It can happen for many different reasons and can be caused by a problem in both the male or female reproductive systems. These can include:
- Ovary disorders like polycystic ovary syndrome
- Uterus disorders like endometriosis
- Hormone imbalances
- Testicular disorders like varicocele
- Irregular sperm or egg
Infertility can be caused by a combination of things or have unknown causes.
The first treatment for infertility depends on the cause, but it’s often medications to help stimulate ovulation and balance hormones. Stimulating ovulation can make your body release more than one egg, which raises your chances of having multiple babies. These medications often include:
Clomiphene is sometimes also used as an off-label treatment to help men make hormones and sperm. It’s safe and effective for infertility, but more research is needed.
What are some of the treatments for infertility?
If ovulation is normal, your doctor will look for other causes of infertility and treat those. There are lots of different treatments.
Surgery can help both men and women who have structural problems. If blocked fallopian tubes stop the egg from reaching the uterus, the blockages can be surgically removed. Surgery can help other issues like:
- Scarring from past surgeries
- Tissue that builds up in your uterus and tubes from endometriosis
- Varicose veins in the scrotum that stop sperm growth
- Muscle tumors called fibroids that grow in the wall of your uterus
Keeping a healthy weight is important for fertility. Being underweight can cause your body to stop ovulating and obesity can lead to infertility. Obesity can also lower your body’s response to fertility treatment.
Depending on your weight, your doctor might tell you to lose or gain before trying to conceive and before fertility treatment. Medications like metformin can help if your obesity is linked to diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome.
Tobacco, alcohol, and drugs can also lead to infertility. You’ll need to stop these habits as part of infertility treatment and in preparation for pregnancy. These can also cause serious health problems for your baby and shouldn’t be taken during pregnancy.
Other problems like thyroid disease and sexually transmitted infections can cause fertility problems. Your doctor will give you medications to treat these underlying causes.
Also called artificial insemination, this treatment is when your doctor collects healthy sperm and inserts it into or near your uterus during ovulation. This procedure is often combined with ovulation medicine. Your doctor might use this if you have a sperm allergy, lower amounts of sperm, or unexplained infertility.
Assisted reproductive technology (ART)
Assisted reproduction includes lots of different treatments. These usually cost more and are used when you need more involved treatment:
In vitro fertilization. Often called IVF, this is when your doctor collects your egg and sperm and brings them together in a lab. The sperm is injected into the egg and then transferred to your uterus once it’s healthy.
Donor eggs or sperm. If you have problems with your eggs or sperm, your doctor can do IVF with a donated egg or sperm and transfer it to your uterus.
Gestational carrier. If you have a uterus problem or a serious health problem, another woman can become a carrier. The baby is transferred to the carrier’s uterus to continue the pregnancy.
What is the oldest effective treatment for infertility?
Of all of these infertility treatments, intrauterine insemination (IUI) is the oldest and simplest. It’s still commonly used because it doesn’t cost very much, and it's noninvasive. The success rates vary, but it’s usually best for women under 35 years of age.
You might need 3 to 4 cycles of IUI. If you’re not pregnant within that time, your doctor might suggest IVF next.
Are there alternative infertility treatments?
Complementary and alternative health treatments are often suggested for infertility. Some herbs might help period and hormone problems, but it’s not clear that they’re effective for infertility.
Acupuncture is another ancient art often used for infertility treatment. This is a treatment where tiny needles are inserted into different parts of your body called acupuncture points. Studies show that acupuncture can help balance hormones, improve sperm count, and regulate periods. But it might be that it helps mostly lower stress. More research is needed to understand whether these help infertility.
Infertility has lots of causes and treatments. If you’re struggling with getting pregnant, talk to your doctor.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
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American Family Physician: "Evaluation and Treatment of Infertility."
Androgens: Clinical Research and Therapeutics: "Clomiphene Citrate for Male Hypogonadism and Infertility: An Updated Review."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Substance Use During Pregnancy."
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Infertility."
Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology of India: "Intrauterine Insemination: Fundamentals Revisited."
Mayo Clinic: "Infertility," "Intrauterine insemination (IUI)."
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Wymelenberg, S. Science and Babies: Private Decisions, Public Dilemmas, "Infertility," National Academies Press, 1990.
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