In some cases, people are aware of their infertility (or possible infertility) from an early age, due to cancer treatment, operations or symptoms that have previously been investigated. For most people, they don’t find out that they are infertile, until they’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant.
Here, at the IVF Network, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions about fertility and the answers to go with them.
Infertility is defined as an inability to conceive, after a year or more of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse. ‘Diagnosed infertility’ is a term used when a definitive barrier to conception has been identified. However, ‘unexplained infertility’ is used for couples who have been unable to conceive via regular, unprotected intercourse for at least 12 months, but where doctors cannot identify a cause. Around 20% of couples struggling to conceive are diagnosed with unexplained infertility. ‘Primary infertility’ refers to someone struggling to conceive when they have never had a baby before. The term ‘secondary infertility’ is used when someone has already had one or more pregnancies, but is struggling to conceive again.
Information on the NHS website states that: ‘Around 1 in 7 couples may have difficulty conceiving. About 84% of couples will conceive naturally within a year if they have regular unprotected sex (every 2 or 3 days).’
The most obvious sign of a lack of fertility, is when heterosexual couples are unable to get pregnant after a year of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse (or 6 months if female and over the age of 35). For members of the LGBTQ community, single people or anyone concerned about their fertility, there are tests that can be carried out, for example, to check egg count or sperm count.
There are a number of ways that a fertility specialist can test for infertility, including blood tests, hormone tests, semen analysis and more invasive procedures, such as a laparoscopy or a testicular biopsy, if required.
The type and number of tests vary, depending on the individual and any symptoms that they may be presenting. Tests may include:
- Ovulation testing (a blood test to measure hormone levels)
- Ovarian reserve testing (a hormone test to check how many eggs are left)
- Pelvic ultrasound (to check for any signs of disease)
- Hysteroscopy (a check of the uterus, to look for any abnormalities)
- Hysterosalpingography (an x-ray, to check for blockages)
- Laparoscopy (to examine the fallopian tubes, ovaries and uterus)
As with women, the type and number of tests carried out, will depend on the individual. Tests may include:
- Semen analysis (to check the number, morphology and motility of the sperm)
- Genetic testing
- Hormone testing
- Testicular biopsy
A woman’s fertility starts to decline at the beginning of her adult life, as all of the eggs she will ever have are there from birth. Fertility declines more quickly from age 30 onwards and even quicker after the age of 35. Male fertility starts to decline between the age of 40 and 45.
Some diagnosed male and female infertility problems can be treated or helped with drugs or surgery, meaning that they may still be able to conceive naturally, through intercourse. Many people with unexplained infertility, can also go on to conceive through Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), such as IUI, IVF, or IVF with ICSI.
At the IVF Network, we understand the challenges around infertility and fertility treatment. We provide information through our dedicated channel of experts, our website and our blog posts, to help you to make informed choices on your personal fertility journey.