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The Practical Guide to Infertility and How to Treat It

If your goal is to be a parent, then there is nothing as frightening as infertility. When this strikes, your world can feel like it’s ending.

The good news is we have made tremendous strides in overcoming this obstacle. Nearly all infertile women are able to now have children of their own, and nearly all infertile men are able to father them. Read on to learn more.

infertility causes and treatment

What Is Infertility?

Infertility is technically defined as the inability to conceive or the inability to carry a pregnancy to term after trying to conceive for 12 months.

For most people, it just means you can’t get or stay pregnant.

About 10.9% of women in the US are considered infertile by nature. Of these women, about 60% are married and actively trying to conceive. This number equates to 1.5 million women. So, if you are among these numbers, please know you are not alone.

But men can be at fault, too. It is not known what the true male infertility rates are, so we can only assume through the married rates. Of married couples, 40% of the time, it is the man that is infertile. That means nearly 1 million men are infertile.

Secondary Infertility

This is when you have a healthy child already and are now infertile. The cause is unknown and is usually treated in the same way as primary infertility.

In a small section of the population, secondary infertility is caused by damage to the uterus or cervix during the previous pregnancy. In these cases, the infertility is usually irreversible.

In other cases, unusual growths on the uterus or ovaries are the cause. These are usually treatable.

causes of secondary infertility

Becoming pregnant after secondary infertility is not any riskier than other pregnancies after infertility, in most cases. Once the cause of the infertility is discovered, it can be treated normally. Doctors will still monitor the situation.

If you have had a miscarriage, then the risk of future miscarriage goes up. This is one of the few cases of infertility that does carry a larger risk. Your relationship with your doctor is of paramount importance in this time.

Doctors may recommend that a woman refrains from becoming pregnant if they discover that a C-section caused infertility. These cases find that the uterus did not heal properly and may not support the growth of a new baby. In some cases, this can be fixed with surgery.

When to See a Fertility Specialist

Infertility testing is easy to do in most cases. It’s actually easier to test men than women, and most good infertility doctors will recommend starting there. Because men only produce the sperm, the testing is faster and less invasive.

The doctors will start by testing the mobility and activity of the sperm. In about 40% of cases, it will show either inactive sperm or too few in numbers. The very act of producing a semen sample eliminates the possibility of infertility caused by ejaculation problems.

Once the male side is eliminated, the women are tested. Testing ranges from simple ultrasound scans of the uterus and ovaries to invasive biopsies to test actual egg samples.

Most of the time, a hormone test will show that the woman’s hormonal levels are unbalanced. Simple, short-term medications * are usually enough to remedy this situation.

when to see a fertility doctor

Why are Infertility Rates Rising?

There are many reasons why infertility is rising. More men and women are using legal drugs – prescription medications. Many of these medications prevent pregnancy or cause spontaneous abortion. If you take any medications, you need to talk to your doctor about which ones will cause these problems. You also need to talk to your doctor about which medications will harm your developing baby (hint: most medications will harm a developing baby).

Women are also choosing to have children later in life. 50 years ago, the average age of first-time mothers was 22. Today, it’s closer to 30 (sources debate the actual age). As age increases, the risks associated with pregnancy goes up and the number of viable eggs goes down.

Obesity, a factor in infertility, has risen 30%. While we have more access to good healthy foods than ever before, people are choosing unhealthy fast foods and processed foods. Malnutrition in overweight people has hit an all-time high and malnourished people have a harder time becoming pregnant.

One unproven rumor of a cause of infertility is electromagnetic radiation. We are surrounded by Wi-Fi, satellite data, and more electronics than any time in human history. It is suspected that these electromagnetic waves are causing birth defects, cancer, and many other diseases.

One scientific consensus in Norway, November 17-21, 2009 concluded that not enough studies are being conducted on the effects of electromagnetic radiation. The group also cited hundreds of resources showing that developing fetuses, children, and the elderly are most vulnerable to radiation and care should be taken to avoid exposure to electromagnetic radiation, including cell phones, Wi-Fi, and other electronic devices. The consensus did not make mention of infertility.

Top Causes of Infertility in Males

Age

The biggest cause of infertility is age. Most men are programmed to have propagated by the age of 30. The strongest and most active sperm are produced by then and the potency decreases rapidly with age. Although, men are able to produce some viable sperm until old age death.

men fertility infographic

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Does Low Testosterone Cause Infertility?

Low testosterone affects the man’s ability to produce enough healthy, viable sperm. Testosterone decreases with age, eating processed foods, and weight gain.

While it only takes 1 sperm to fertilize the egg, millions are produced and ejaculated in order to give that one a chance. Even then, the chances of fertilizing the egg are near miraculous. Read more about the actual process of fertilization here

low testosterone signs infographic

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Does Metformin Cause Infertility?

metformin

This is a complicated answer. On one hand, yes, metformin directly causes lower sperm counts. On the other, since testosterone is decreased by an increase in sugar in the body and the resulting insulin, metformin can indirectly cause testosterone increases, thus higher sperm counts.

Metformin is not directly or indirectly used with men to cure infertility. A better course would be to decrease the number of sugars in the diet, increase vegetables and avoid the whole situation, to begin with.

Top Causes of Infertility in Women

Weight Problems

About 12% of all women who are unable to conceive would be able to if they simply lost weight. An additional 40 to 50% would eliminate other health problems that prevent pregnancy if they lost weight.

The body is an amazing machine and it can recognize that the overweight conditions are not healthy for a developing baby. Because of the extreme stress of the extra weight, the body will either stop ovulation or induce a self-abortion.

obesity and pregnancy infographic

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While doctors argue about the amount of weight it takes to cause this situation, it seems as little as 40 pounds (18 kg) can be enough to trigger the ovaries to stop producing. Generally, it is accepted that between 80 and 100 lbs is enough to cause the uterus to reject a pregnancy.

Of course, too little weight can also be a problem. Professional athletes know amenorrhea very well. This is where their ovaries will stop ovulating because of the stresses of extreme exercise. The stresses of exercise cause hormonal disruptions in the estrogen/testosterone balance. Because of this, the body behaves as if it is on birth control pills. The progesterone that is produced during the latter half of the menstrual cycle, that conditions the uterus to accept a fertilized egg, is not produced enough to trigger the next ovulation.

Starvation can also trigger a lack of ovulation. This is due to the body not having enough nutrients to support normal functions of the body, let alone grow a new, healthy one.

Does Birth Control Cause Infertility?

This is a huge yes. Birth control is a direct cause of infertility because that is what is supposed to do. So, if you want to get pregnant, do not use birth control.

Once you stop, in 99% of cases, you will become your natural state of fertility within 6 months to one year. Some women are fertile immediately, while some require as much as 2 years.

But, there is a tiny portion of the population that never regains their fertility. Usually, it is when birth control is used over many years or was used at too high a dose for too long. In these cases, fertility treatment * can reverse this effect. In a very rare case (less than 100 recorded), the birth control actually eliminates all fertile eggs within the ovaries.

Smoking & Infertility

smoking and infertility infographic

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About 13% of infertile women are that way because they smoke. Cigarettes and other tobacco products are a leading cause of infertility. Smoking is the leading cause of birth defects in children (not counting illegal drugs).

This is the reason doctors encourage women to give up smoking when they are pregnant or wish to be. The simple act of quitting means you are healthier and your child will be healthier.

Does Endometriosis Cause Infertility?

Endometriosis is a disease where the uterine lining of the wall spreads to other areas of the body, usually the ovaries. This can cause pain, infection, and yes, infertility.

Women know the endometrium as what is shed during our cycles. This is the blood and thicker excretions during our period. Normally, it completely sheds without issue, regrowing during the month and is shed again.

endometriosis symptoms and causes infographic

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Having mild endometriosis may or may not cause infertility. Many fertile women who carry normally to term have it. Yet, others are completely infertile. Doctors are unsure why this is or how to prevent it. More severe cases usually mean infertility.

Treatments * vary from drug courses to surgery. It is based on the individual case and where the endometrium is growing.

Does Ovarian Cysts (PCOS) Cause Infertility?

This is a hormonal disorder, an overproduction of androgens, which causes small cysts to grow on the outside of the ovaries, causing larger and inflamed ovaries. It can cause pain, irregular periods, and unusual effects, like excessive body hair.

Because of the damage to the ovaries, it can cause infertility. The ovaries do not produce normal eggs if they produce eggs at all.

Treatment * is usually very successful, especially for women under the age of 35. Which treatment will work best is determined by your doctor and which specific hormones are causing you problems.

pcos stats and symptoms infographic

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Does Adenomyosis Cause Infertility?

This is where the endometrium breaks through the uterus into the surrounding muscle. It is much more common in women who already have had children, being a leading cause of secondary infertility. Many women who have this also have endometriosis.

It can lead to infertility by not allowing the fertilized egg to properly implant. The body never receives the proper signals that an egg is there, and goes through the normal routine of a menstrual cycle.

Treatment vary. Some women are cured with pain relievers, while others require surgery and medications. Often, the endometrium is shed normally during the cycle and the wound it left is able to heal. Repeated cases require a doctor.

adenomyosis symptoms infographic

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Can an Abortion Cause Infertility?

A properly performed and legal abortion will cause no damage to the uterine walls or the body. In a proper facility, abortions have one of the lowest risks of complications of all medical procedures. The greatest risk in these cases comes from doctor mistakes, which are exceedingly rare.

abortion and fertility

Abortions caused by levonorgestrel/Plan B has not been known to cause any infertility when used properly.

Illegal or unauthorized abortions by surgery or medication can carry great risk of infertility, but most likely death. Please use safe and legal facilities to avoid complications.

What Causes Infertility After a Miscarriage?

Any number of factors could cause a miscarriage, which technically is a form of infertility. But, a miscarriage rarely causes infertility. Usually, a miscarriage is a symptom of a larger problem that causes infertility.

miscarriage statistics

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Does Having a Miscarriage Mean You are Infertile?­

It is possible, but unless miscarriages happen more than once, it is hard to tell. Your doctor will need to determine why you miscarried and how to prevent future incidences. The doctor will keep close tabs on your pregnancy after any miscarriage.

What Causes Infertility After Having a Baby?

Most of the time, infertility after having a baby is caused by damage to the uterus. This can take the form of actual damage, adenomyosis, endometriosis, or any type of hormonal problem. So, your doctor will first look for physical damage, then for other issues.

Medications that May Cause Infertility

While all medications carry risk, the risks to a developing baby are very high. Nearly all medications will be contraindicated while pregnant.

Of course, there are some that are worse than others.

You will want to talk to your doctor about using any medication, prescription or over-the-counter. Something as simple as a single Aspirin or Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) can cause a miscarriage. Any medication used to treat depression, heart disease, or hormonal issues (including insulin) could cause infertility or miscarriage.

Prometrium is a medication that works very well to help women become pregnant, but can actually cause miscarriage if you take it while pregnant. It helps to keep ready the endometrium to accept a fertilized egg. Later on in the pregnancy, this high level of progesterone could cause the body to reject the developing fetus.

Femara, the generic name is letrozole, can be an effective fertility treatment for women with ovulation problems. This drug inhibits aromatase, which can help suppress estrogen levels, thereby causing follicles in the ovaries to develop mature eggs. For most women, it can help release several mature eggs at once, increasing the likelihood of multiple eggs being fertilized.

Can Chlamydia Cause Infertility and Other STD Problems?

Yes, chlamydia can cause infertility. The risk increases the longer you are left untreated, although the actual number of infertilities caused by chlamydia are unknown.

The treatment of chlamydia is a simple 7-day course of antibiotics. From there, the body is able to fight the infection. While the treatment is short, it is intense. It is possible to cause a spontaneous abortion because of the antibiotics, but it is a rare side effect.

If you discover you have chlamydia and are pregnant, see your doctor as soon as possible. The antibiotic treatment can help prevent transmission of the infection to the fetus. Left untreated, chlamydia is highly likely to cause birth defects and miscarriages.

HPV and Infertility

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is not a direct cause of infertility, and should not cause infertility in most women. What it can do is cause cancer to develop in the cervix, vagina, and uterus, which will directly diminish your chances of becoming pregnant.

Fortunately, treatments are available and successful. When properly treated, the HPV should not cause any fertility problems, although doctors do not recommend attempting to become pregnant while undergoing treatment.

As a side note, the vaccine for HPV has been removed in most markets in most of the world. There are a 5 to 20 times higher anaphylaxis rate and the vaccine maker Merck’s own reports show you have a 50% higher chance of developing cancer because of the vaccine if you had exposure to HVP prior.

There have also been over 30,000 deaths attributed to the vaccine in the US alone. India, where the vaccine was heavily used, has reported over 1 million women who are now infertile due to the vaccine.

Side Effects of Infertility

There are no direct side effects of being infertile. But, you may experience several of the stigmatisms society places on women who are infertile.

Does Infertility Cause Depression

Depression is the chief complaint of many women dealing with infertility issues. Being infertile does not mean you will become depressed. Your attitude and behaviors will determine that.

Your self-worth is not tied to your ability to become pregnant. You are worth so much more than that.

If the prospect of infertility is causing you distress, please seek out the help of friends and family. Or seek out professional aid. Most depression medications * will exaggerate your infertility problems, but you don’t need the medications. Often times, a healthy diet will help to remove triggers that cause depression, sugar being the leading dietary cause of depression.

relaxation techniques for infertility

There are hundreds of support groups, psychologists, and doctors that can and will help you to come to terms with your current state of infertility and help you with action steps to either become pregnant or remain stable in your life if you can’t.

Can Infertility Cause Irregular Periods? Or Do Irregular Periods Cause Infertility?

The answer to both of these is a yes. Irregular periods can cause infertility and infertility can cause irregular periods. But, having irregular periods does not mean you are infertile.

There are several choices that will cause your period to be irregular. A poor diet, excessive exercise, and drugs (like cigarettes, illegal drugs, and prescription medications) will affect your body’s ability to properly have a period, or ovulate an egg. Without the ovulation of an egg, your body cannot become pregnant.

irregular periods causes

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Fortunately, most of the causes can be overcome with a healthy diet rich in vegetables, moderate exercise, and an adjustment in your medications.

The same is true in the opposite direction. Several conditions of infertility will cause irregular periods. In fact, one of the biggest signs of infertility is irregular periods. Things like ovarian cancer, cysts, endometriosis, and other uterine problems will show up as missed or ill-timed periods.

Your doctor will be able to help you to determine what is the cause of the irregular periods and what it means to you.

The Ectopic Pregnancy Risk

Problems with fertility often include being wary of Ectopic pregnancy. This is where the fertilized egg implants anywhere outside of the uterus. Most often, the implantation occurs in the Fallopian tubes. But, it can also happen in the cervix, between the Fallopian tubes and ovaries, or further down in the vagina.

ectopic pregnancy

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In nearly all cases, the pregnancy is forfeit. The body cannot support growth in these areas and will often self-abort. In about half of the cases, you never would have known you were pregnant. In the other half, the condition is painful and could require surgery.

In cases where this type of pregnancy has occurred, a doctor will want to monitor you for future risk. Fortunately, it is rarely life threatening and rarely poses a risk to a future successful pregnancy.

Natural Treatments for Infertility

So, how do we prevent infertility?

Many causes of infertility can be avoided with simple lifestyle choices. A healthy diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables is the first key to being healthy. Lots of clean water is second.

When the body has proper nutrition, it can support the growth of new life easily. Be sure to have at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day and avoid processed foods. Drink at least 8 glasses of clean water daily and avoid sodas, energy drinks, and caffeine.

Avoid cigarettes. These are a huge contributor to birth defects and pregnancy issues. Nothing good comes from smoking.

Avoid drugs, alcohol, and prescription medication (when doctor approved). These place huge stresses on the body and the metabolites can be toxic. Plus, many of these are known to induce abortions, which is not something you want.

Ayurvedic Treatment for Infertility

Traditional Indian medicine is well known for helping women with fertility problems. There is a whole branch of Ayurveda dedicated wholly to pregnancy since the Hindu religion regards the pregnant woman quite highly. The start of all treatments is exactly what we just described: a healthy diet.

ayurvedic diet fertility infographic

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They will also use herbs and exercise to help your body become ready to support a baby. Lean, strong muscles in the abdomen actually support pregnancy and increase your chances of successfully carrying to term.

Homeopathic Treatment for Infertility

what is homeopathy

While modern medicine denies that homeopathy works, it is used in much of the world as a standard treatment. But, you won’t find a specific treatment for infertility in the stores. You will need to visit a homeopathic doctor with experience in working with women with infertility problems.

Homeopathic treatments are designed for the individual. What works for one person may cause problems in another. We do not recommend the home use of homeopathic medicine, please seek out a doctor.

Foods for Infertility

Some of the best medicine is found in foods. Red fruits and vegetables are some of the top foods for helping women be fertile and ready to support a child. Apples are top of the list, being high in fiber and nutrients, especially anthocyanins.

On the other hand, all fruits and vegetables are super foods. With over 10,000 phytonutrients, each piece of vegetable will deliver benefit to the body.

Just be sure to stick to locally raised, healthy foods. Avoid commercially grown fruits and vegetables because they often are coated in pesticides that can cause infertility. While organic is not required, when you are in doubt of the quality of local foods or it’s not that time of year, go organic.

Herbal Remedies for Infertility

Some of the best herbs and spices for infertility are the hot ones. They help burn away mucus that can cause the body to want to flush away excess tissues, which includes any fertilized eggs. Plus, spicy foods often help reduce inflammation, relaxing the uterus and cervix. This can help encourage the body to accept the fertilized egg easier.

Avoid herbs like motherwort and elecampane. While touted by some to be the quintessential herbs for motherhood, they are not for pregnant women. These herbs can stimulate lactation, which shuts down the body’s ability to produce a viable egg.

You should work with a qualified herbalist if you want to take any herb. Many herbs are perfectly safe for you, but may be toxic to a developing baby.

Reiki for Infertility

This is becoming one of the best forms of gentle, holistic healing. Used by prized teaching hospitals, like John Hopkins University Teaching Hospital, reiki can help push your natural healing energies where they are most needed. You heal, the reiki gives you direction.

Because reiki involves no touching or invasive steps, it is perfectly safe to use during pregnancy. As you feel better with reiki, your body becomes more open and willing to accept a baby.

Be sure to find a practitioner who is experienced with pregnancy. While reiki can’t hurt you, experienced practitioners would be able to tell your natural energies apart from your baby’s.

Infertility Support Groups

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of support groups specifically dedicated to working with women and men who have infertility issues. Some of the groups even will differentiate between general infertility to very specific forms, such as endometriosis and PCOS.

Be careful when joining a support group. While all of them are supportive and want to help you, some are fancy complaint sessions. These people are stuck in the past and allow their issues to dominate their lives. These types of groups can drag out your issues and can even make your infertility worse.

Seek out groups that help you move forward, not just dwell on past issues. One of the biggest things to do with a new group is to listen to success stories of the group. People who use the group for support, get control of their issues, and then provide support for others is key. They should be happy you are getting treatments and be supportive if you become pregnant.

Medical Infertility Treatments – The Infertility Cure

There is no universal cure for infertility. Most people will experience a cure individually. Each problem has a unique set of variables that will allow a person to conceive and it may take several tries for that to happen.

Of course, you need to know that even with a hugely successful rate of pregnancy, all forms of treatments still have women who did not become pregnant.

infertility treatment options infographic

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There are dozens of types of infertility treatments *. We recommend that you start with diet and exercise to see if it is something simple to overcome. Then, include your doctor to see what other issues you may be experiencing. Remember, mild endometriosis may have no outward signs of occurring, but it could be enough to stop you from conceiving.

Also, know that each woman and man will experience infertility uniquely. The couple down the street may have only needed a testosterone boost for the man *, but you may need artificial insemination because his sperm just can’t be boosted.

Fortunately, infertility treatments are more common and more doctors are becoming aware of the different treatments. Support in hospitals is growing and people are becoming attentive to the needs of mothers who are taking the treatments.

Myth: Infertility Treatments Cause Cancer

Like everything else, infertility treatments could cause cancer. But has it been documented? Rarely.

For the vast majority of people who take infertility treatments, you will have no issues with cancer. The medications and treatments do not cause the types of mutations that are precursors of cancer.

How Much Do Infertility Treatments Cost

This is tricky. Each treatment varies widely based on age, location, and type of treatment. Some of the testosterone boosters for men are just a few hundred dollars. Some of the medications for women * are several thousand. More yet, artificial insemination can be several tens of thousands of dollars.

You and your doctor can determine which treatment option works best for you. Then, you need to determine if it will fit your budget.

infertility treatments cost infographic

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Remember, a good diet and exercise cost very little. And a good diet can eliminate many issues.

Where Can I Get Fertility Testing?

Most doctors are part of a health system that includes a fertility specialist. A simple referral is all it takes to see this doctor and get tested *. In most cases, the testing will show what your issue is.

In some cases, you may be referred to an outside source for testing. The larger cities usually have special clinics and facilities dedicated to unique and hard to treat cases.

infertility tests for females infographic

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Does Insurance Cover Infertility Treatments?

This can be tricky. In most cases, insurance will cover basic infertility treatment. But, you need to check with your own individual plan.

In more and more cases, insurances will cover the treatments, but you will find the cost of your insurance becomes much higher. This is especially problematic for women since we are already discriminated against for having the ability to bear children, whether we can/want to or not.

As a side note, usually, government run health care and low-income health care do not cover the costs of treatments. It is thought if you can’t afford basic utilities, like health insurance, you cannot afford a risky pregnancy or a child.

Special Infertility Insurance

You can purchase infertility insurance. It is available through most insurance companies. Each plan is different and requires you to know what you need and how long it will take. We recommend talking to your doctor and then to an insurance broker to know what you need and how to proceed.

What Happens If Infertility Treatments Fail?

In some cases, treatments will just never work. In these cases, you will be sent home by your doctor, often without much consolation.

We recommend you already have a support system in place to help you deal with the finality of the medical system failing to help you. These people can be family, friends, or support groups. Be sure to talk to at least one person other than your partner who can help you through this time. Seeking out a psychologist or life coach for a few months can also help you deal with the issues you may not be able to vocalize with friends.

There are other ways of having children. There are nearly a quarter million children in the US who need a loving home. You can be a foster parent or an adoptive parent. While babies are popular, consider adopting and older child. They are often greatly in need of a parent’s love and can become as close to you as a child of your body. While perceived as unruly, generally older adopted children are very thankful and loving once they feel safe in your home.

There are also groups, such as Big Brother/Big Sister, who help children who need a role model. Church groups often look for people to take children on retreats. You can combine your love of sports with children by becoming a youth coach.

How to Cope with Infertility

You aren’t alone in this struggle. Millions of men and women are coping with the very same issue.

First, know that your worth is based on your whole life, not just your ability to have a child. You are important.

There are hundreds of infertility support groups, most of which are in local hospitals. These groups are filled with many other men and women who are struggling with the same issues. Seek out groups that are positive, and help you to come to a resolution about your infertility. Avoid groups that are nothing by gripe sessions and that keep you in the same pain week after week.

There are many groups online where you can have a sense of community. Remember, avoid giving out too much personal information and seek out positive, future thinking groups.

For the proactive, there are hundreds of doctors that will discuss treatments and options. A child may be in your future, just a future you have to work hard for.

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