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Infertility may be caused by any number of conditions. And there are a variety of causes associated with those conditions—both internal and external. Some people are just born with it while other times outside factors may affect fertility, and a pre-existing disease or condition may interfere as well.

Fertility and the ability to conceive involves the proper functioning of a number of aspects of your and your partner’s reproductive symptoms, including:

Male

  • Healthy sperm
  • Sperm’s ability to fertilize the egg

Female

  • Ability of a fertilized egg to implant in a woman’s uterus
  • Sufficient embryo quality
  • Healthy eggs
  • Unblocked fallopian tubes

In men, infertility is caused by either a lack of sperm or malformed sperm. Some men produce no sperm at all. A man can be born with fertility problems and sometimes these fertility problems are associated with a genetic disease such as cystic fibrosis, but they can also be attributed to injuries later in life. A man’s lifestyle has a great influence on his fertility, and drug and alcohol abuse may reduce sperm quality. Environmental toxins, including pesticides and lead, can also affect fertility in men.

In women, infertility is most commonly cause by ovulation problems. Ovulation is the process whereby an egg is released from the ovary and made available for fertilization. You might be aware that you have an ovulation problem, because you have irregular periods or amenorrhea (absence of periods). Ovulation problems can be influenced by your lifestyle—if you are overly stressed, have an improper diet or an eating disorder, or if you have an excessively strenuous exercise routine, ovulation may be affected. Some hormonal problems also affect ovulation, including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal syndrome and common cause of infertility that may also affect metabolism. Women with PCOS develop enlarged ovaries and multiple small cysts. PCOS can be managed with weight loss and exercise that might stimulate renewed ovulation.

Aging will also affect ovulation. Most professionals agree that after 35 the ovaries begin to release fewer eggs. Menopause will render you infertile because you no longer release any eggs. Besides ovulation difficulties, many other factors that contribute to fertility problems, including closed fallopian tubes, which inhibit the sperm’s access to the released egg. Endometriosis is a pre-existing condition that causes adhesions and cysts in the uterus and can be very painful. It may also cause infertility. Some women are born with abnormally developed reproductive organs, including the uterus. Uterine fibroids are often associated with repeated miscarriages and infertility.

After you meet with your provider to discuss the possibility of infertility, he or she will conduct an extensive interview to make sure that you are having sex at the right times to promote conception. The interview will be accompanied by a full physical exam and preliminary blood tests. You may undergo tests and screenings to help identify the problem. Knowing the cause of infertility is crucial to deciding on the appropriate treatment. Men usually undergo semen analysis, a test to check for any defects in the sperm, etc. Both you and your partner will be tested for hormone levels, which can show any ovulation or sperm production problem. After these initial tests, if there is no identifiable cause, another round of tests will be ordered. Your provider might choose to test your fallopian tube function with an x-ray using a contrast dye to view any problems in the uterus or fallopian tubes or laparoscopy, which provides a direct view of the reproductive organs by internally inserting a fiber optic camera. The results of these tests may provide an explanation for your problems with fertility. Sometimes, a couple’s inability to conceive or carry out a pregnancy is unknown. In fact, at least 10 percent of all infertility cases have unknown causes. In those cases, it may be more difficult to find the right treatment, although other options may be explored.