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Health Information | 04/06/2023

Infertility: What It Means to Have the Diagnosis

By  Dr. Beth Plante
couple sitting on bench looking out to the ocean
If you are struggling with infertility, you are not alone. It’s estimated that nearly one in six couples in the United States who are trying to conceive will encounter fertility challenges. At Atrius Health, our dedicated reproductive endocrinologists are here to help you find the answers you need to begin your journey to becoming a parent. First, it’s helpful to understand what a diagnosis of infertility means. Infertility is a condition in which a couple is unable to conceive or maintain a pregnancy and it affects both men and women. Those struggling with infertility often feel overwhelmed and frustrated while trying to cope with the diagnosis. Understanding the cause of your infertility can be helpful in recognizing how best to overcome it. Our physicians will guide you through the process with care and expertise.

What You Need to Know About Infertility

There are several factors that can contribute to infertility, and you likely have many questions. Here are some answers to the ones we hear the most to help you take the first step towards treatment.

Is infertility just a woman’s problem?

While fertility is often thought of as a woman's problem, it is important to recognize that both men and women can experience fertility issues equally. Additionally, there are a variety of factors that can impact fertility in both men and women, including age, lifestyle choices, and medical conditions.

What causes infertility in women?

There are several factors that can cause infertility in women. One of the most common is irregular or abnormal ovulation, which accounts for approximately 25 percent of all female infertility problems. Another factor is body weight, with 12 percent of all infertility cases being under or over a weight range deemed optimal for fertility. The good news is that your fertility improves by attaining and maintaining a weight within that optimal range. Smoking is another significant factor, as up to 13 percent of female infertility is caused by cigarette smoking. Additionally, pregnant women who smoke are at higher risk for miscarriage. Sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia can also cause infertility if left untreated; chlamydia alone causes about 4 to 5 million infections annually in the United States. It is important to note that these are only some of the causes that lead to infertility in women, and every individual has a unique circumstance to why they can’t conceive. Our physicians are skilled in diagnosing fertility problems and will help create a care plan to meet your individual needs.

What increases a woman’s risk of infertility?

Many factors can increase a woman's risk of infertility. Here are the most common ones:
  • Age is the most significant factor, as fertility naturally declines as women get older. Not only do you have fewer eggs as you age, but the quality also declines. At age 30, a woman typically has a 20% chance each month of conceiving naturally. By the age of 40, a woman’s chance of getting pregnant naturally is 5% each month.
  • Smoking and excessive alcohol use can also have negative impacts on fertility, as they can damage the reproductive organs and disrupt hormonal balances.
  • Being overweight or underweight can also contribute to infertility, as it can impact the body's ability to ovulate regularly.
  • Additionally, high levels of stress can interfere with ovulation and menstrual cycles, making it more difficult to conceive.

What causes infertility in men?

Approximately 40% of infertility cases are related to the male. Infertility in men can be caused by a variety of factors. One common cause is low sperm count or poor sperm quality, which can be due to genetic factors, hormonal imbalances, or environmental factors such as exposure to chemicals or radiation. Other potential causes of male infertility include physical blockages in the reproductive system, injury or damage to the testicles, and certain medical conditions such as diabetes or infections. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and drug use can also contribute to male infertility. Infertility can affect men and women almost equally, which is why a fertility evaluation should include both partners to determine the best treatment plan.

What increases a man’s risk of infertility?

Like women, there are several factors that can increase the risk of fertility issues. The most common concerns include:
  • One factor is body weight, as being overweight or obese can negatively impact sperm production and quality.
  • Smoking is another significant factor, as it can damage sperm DNA and reduce sperm count and motility.
  • Excessive alcohol and drug use, including marijuana, can also decrease sperm quality and quantity.
  • Exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides, lead, and other chemicals can also have detrimental effects on male fertility.
  • Additionally, certain medical conditions such as diabetes or infections may increase the risk of infertility in men.

When To See an Infertility Specialist

The need to seek more help can feel overwhelming, but we are to help you take the first step with ease. If you have been trying to conceive for a year or more without success, it may be time to consider seeing an infertility specialist. If you are over the age of 35, it is recommended that you seek medical attention after six months of trying to conceive. Seeking the guidance of an infertility specialist can help identify any underlying issues and provide appropriate treatment options to increase the chances of successful conception.

Where To Start

If you are having difficulty getting pregnant or have more questions on infertility, schedule an appointment with one of our Atrius Health infertility specialists.
Beth Plante

About The Author

Dr. Beth Plante

Dr. Beth Plante is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. She received her medical degree from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and completed her residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. She then completed fellowship training in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Her clinical and research interests include infertility, diminished ovarian reserve, primary ovarian insufficiency and polycystic ovary syndrome. Dr. Plante has been the winner of numerous teaching and clinical awards, including the Berlex Best Teaching Resident Award, Fellow Teaching Award, Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award, Patients’ Choice Award, and Compassionate Doctor Recognition. Dr. Plante is a member of many professional associations including the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the Society for Gynecologic Investigation, and the New England Fertility Society. In her free time, Dr. Plante loves spending time with her family, running, and learning to ski again after a 15 year hiatus.

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