What is infertility?

Infertility is when a couple who have regular unprotected sex can’t get pregnant. In some cases, it may be that a partner is unable to successfully contribute to conception, or that a woman can’t carry a pregnancy for the full nine month term.

Research indicates that around 1 in 7 couples may have trouble conceiving, while approximately 84% of couples will conceive naturally within a year if they have regular unprotected sex 2-3 times per week.

For couples who’ve been having difficulty conceiving for more than three years, the chances of getting pregnant naturally within the next year is less than 25%.

Infertilite couple

What are the causes of infertility?

There are many reasons why you might be struggling to conceive, and fertility problems can affect both men and women. In some cases it isn’t possible to identify the cause of infertility, however, in women, some of the most common reasons include:

  • blocked fallopian tubes
  • untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea
  • not ovulating
  • poor egg quality
  • the shape of your uterus
  • uterine fibroids
  • endometriosis

In men, meanwhile, the most common cause of infertility is poor-quality semen.

Problems with ejaculation can also cause fertility issues. If you find you have a hard time ejaculating, then the tubes inside your testicles and penis may be blocked. Occasionally, ejaculation can send semen backwards from your prostate to your bladder, instead of out of your penis.

Speak to a healthcare professional if you’re trying to conceive and think you may be experiencing any of these issues.

What health and lifestyle factors affect infertility?

In addition to the causes highlighted above, there are a number of health, lifestyle and general factors that can have an impact on your chances of conceiving a child, including:

  • being over the age of 35 (for a woman)
  • being very overweight or underweight
  • chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • exposure to toxins and pesticides
  • a history of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • injury to the scrotum and testes
  • undescended testicles
  • overheated testicles
  • excessive alcohol or drug use
  • smoking

What is IVF and how does it work?

If you’re looking to improve your chances of getting pregnant then in vitro fertilisation (IVF) – a complex series of procedures used to encourage fertility, prevent genetic problems and assist with conception – could help.

During the IVF process, mature eggs are retrieved from a patient’s ovaries and fertilised by sperm in a lab. The fertilised eggs – or embryos – are then transferred to the uterus. Generally, a full cycle of IVF treatment takes about three weeks.

IVF can be carried out using your own eggs and your partner’s sperm, or those from an anonymous donor.

Depending on where you seek treatment, along with other factors such as age and cause of infertility, IVF can be invasive, costly and time-consuming. However, IVF is generally regarded as the most effective form of assisted reproductive technology.

Newborn baby

How successful is IVF treatment?

Like many medical procedures there are some risks involved with IVF and success rates can vary depending on a number of factors including a patient’s reproductive history, lifestyle and diet, and the underlying cause of infertility.

As the chances of a successful pregnancy decrease exponentially with age, IVF treatment is generally not recommended for women above the age of 42.

According to research conducted by the NHS, from 2014 to 2016 the percentage of IVF treatments that resulted in a live birth using their own eggs and their partner’s sperm was:

  • 29% – women under 35
  • 23% – women aged 35 to 37
  • 15% – women aged 38 to 39
  • 9% – women aged 40 to 42
  • 3% – women aged 43 to 44
  • 2% – women aged over 44