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Quick facts about infertility
- Infertility is not an inconvenience; it is failure of the reproductive system that impairs the body’s ability to perform the basic function of reproduction.
- Infertility affects men and women equally.
- Most infertility cases – 85-90% – are treated with conventional medical therapies such as medication or surgery.
- While vital for some patients, in-vitro fertilization and similar treatments account for less than 3% of infertility services.
- What is Infertility?
Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system that impairs one of the body’s most basic functions: the production of children. Conception is a complicated process that depends on many factors: on the production of healthy sperm by the man and healthy eggs by the women; unblocked Fallopian tubes that allow the sperm to reach the egg; the sperm’s ability to fertilize the egg when they meet; the ability of the fertilized egg (embryo) to become implanted in the woman’s uterus; and sufficient embryo quality.Finally, for the pregnancy to continue to full term, the embryo must be healthy and the women’s hormonal environment must be adequate for its development. If just one of these factors is impaired, the result may be infertility.
- What causes infertility?
No one can be blamed for infertility any more than anyone is to blame for diabetes or leukemia. In simple terms, about one-third of infertility cases can be attributed to male factors, and about one-third to female factors. For the remaining one-third of infertile couples, infertility is caused by a combination of problems in both partners, or, in about 10% of cases, is unexplained.The most common male infertility factors include azoospermia (no sperm cells are present in the semen), and oligospermia (very few sperm cells are present in the semen). Sometimes, sperm cells are malformed or they die before they can reach the egg. In rare cases, infertility in men is caused by a genetic disease such as cystic fibrosis or a chromosomal abnormality.
The most common female infertility factor is an ovulation disorder. Other causes of female infertility include blocked Fallopian tubes, which can occur when a women has had pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis (a sometimes painful condition causing adhesions and cysts). Congenital abnormalities (birth defects) involving the structure of the uterus and uterine fibroids are associated with repeated miscarriages.
- How is infertility diagnosed?
Couples are generally advised to seek medical help if they are unable to achieve pregnancy after a year of unprotected intercourse. The doctor will conduct a physical examination of both partners to determine their general state of health and to evaluate physical disorders that may be causing infertility. Usually both partners are interviewed about their sexual habits in order to determine whether intercourse is taking place properly for conception.If no cause can be determined at this point, more specific tests may be recommended. For women, these include an analysis of body temperature and ovulation, X-ray of Fallopian tubes and uterus, and laparoscopy. For men, initial tests focus on semen analysis.
- How is infertility treated?
Most infertility cases – 85-90% – are treated with conventional therapies, such as drug treatment or surgical repair of reproductive organs.
- What is In-Vitro Fertilization?
In infertile couples, where women have blocked or absent Fallopian tubes, or when men have low sperm counts, In-Vitro fertilization (IVF) offers a chance at parenthood to couples who, until recently, would have had no hope of having a ‘biologically related’ child.In IVF, eggs are surgically removed from the ovary and mixed with sperm outside the body in a Petri dish (‘in-vitro’ is Latin for ‘in glass’.) After about 20 hours, the eggs are examined to see if they have been fertilized by the sperm and are progressing. These fertilized eggs (embryos) are then placed in the woman’s uterus, thus bypassing the Fallopian tubes.
IVF has received a great deal of media attention since it was first introduced in 1978, but it actually accounts for less than 5% of all infertility treatment in the United States.
- Is In-Vitro Fertilization expensive?
The average cost of an IVF cycle in the United States is $12400. Like other extremely delicate medical procedures, IVF involves highly trained professionals with sophisticated laboratories and equipment, and the cycle may need to be repeated to be successful. While IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies are not inexpensive, they account for only 0.03% of US health care costs.
- Does In-Vitro Fertilization work?Yes. IVF was introduced in the United States in 1981. Since 1985, when we began counting, through to the end of 2006, almost 500,000 babies have been born in the United States as a result of reported Assisted Reproductive Technology procedures (IVF, GIFT, ZIFT, and combination procedures). IVF currently accounts for more than 99% of ART procedures, with GIFT, ZIFT and combination procedures making up the remainder. The average live delivery rate for IVF in 2005 was 31.6% per retrieval – a little better than the 20% chance in any given month that a reproductively healthy couple has of achieving a pregnancy and carrying it to term. In 2002, approximately 1 in 100 babies born in the US was conceived using ART and that trend continues today.