Infertility Explained: The Answers to Our Top FAQs

April 1, 2018   Pregnancy & Postpartum

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Infertility is one of the most physical and emotional challenges a couple can experience — and more common than you might think. One in six healthy couples in the reproductive age range of 20-34 is affected by fertility issues. That’s 6.1 million couples per year!

We’ve received a lot of questions about infertility over the years. Below are answers to some of the most common ones.

How do you define infertility?

Infertility is the inability to conceive a child. Women who can get pregnant but are unable to stay pregnant may also be infertile. There are two classifications of infertility: primary and secondary. Primary signifies a woman who has never had a child. Secondary is determined when a woman has conceived in the past but cannot on later attempts.

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What are common risk factors?

Common risk factors for infertility include age, smoking, excess use of alcohol, stress, insufficient diet, athletic training, being overweight or underweight, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and health problems that cause hormonal changes.

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Is infertility just a woman's problem?

No — a man can just as easily be the cause of a couple’s inability to conceive. In fact, infertility treatment is more effective today because of research conducted on male hormones and male reproductive factors. Studies reveal that in 30 percent of cases, male factors contribute to the inability to conceive. Female factors account for another 45 percent, and in the remaining 25 percent, the infertility is unexplained.

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How is infertility treated?

There is no single treatment for infertility; each couple is unique. It is important that a fertility specialist observes both partners to obtain complete surgical and medical histories. Pregnancy is not guaranteed with any treatment method, and couples should expect to endure a slew of emotions throughout the process.


What are some types of infertility treatments?

Treatment options range from strategically planning intercourse to taking medication and even undergoing surgery. Hormonal medication can help with abnormal ovulation, but surgery is usually needed for ovarian cysts, scarring problems, and endometriosis. Surgery is typically recommended for males who have a low sperm count, poor sperm motility, undescended testicles, or varicocele. Conducting artificial insemination, either with the male’s sperm or donor sperm, is another form of treatment. In vitro fertilization is another method that involves fertilizing an egg (or eggs) outside of the woman’s body and then implanting them in her uterus.


What are the drawbacks of infertility treatment?

Each infertility treatment is met with a variety of obstacles. The biggest one is cost, as insurance coverage for specific treatments is not guaranteed. Many infertility medications increase the possibility of multiple births. Couples must be confident that they are prepared if multiple fertilization occurs. Five to ten percent of couples will have twins with oral medications. Triplets are also possible with injectable medications. Medications of all kinds can have side effects. Everyone is different, so the degree to which those side effects are experienced can vary.


What if I have a miscarriage?  When should I seek treatment?

Experiencing a miscarriage is not uncommon. Physicians recommend evaluating the couple after two consecutive pregnancy losses. In 50% of cases, the cause of infertility goes undiagnosed and the couple eventually has a normal pregnancy with no treatment.

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Rebecca Banaski, DO, MPH

With a specialization in infertility, I have helped hundreds of patients in the New Hampshire and Maine seacoast areas take an active approach in making informed choices, overcoming fears, and achieving their ultimate goal: to have a baby.

— Rebecca Banaski, D.O., MPH

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