Infertility, strictly speaking, is defined as a disease by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is a disease of the reproductive system wherein unprotected sexual intercourse does not result in pregnancy. In fact, WHO’s medical description of infertility is: “…a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.”
In the first place, let us understand that not everyone gets pregnant at the first instance of unprotected sex. For pregnancy to occur, there are multiple factors that play a role. But when it does not happen, it is typically believed that the problem lies with the woman and her ability to conceive. However, that is not entirely true. The lack of fertilisation could be due to factors relating to the man as well. In other words, infertility could affect either of the partners.
Infertility in a man results from inadequate sperm production. Sperm production and the quality of semen are affected due to a plethora of reasons. It could be due to prostate infections, diabetes, alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, or, for that matter, even due to enlarged veins in the testes called varicoceles. Sperm production can be hampered by hormonal problems, like inadequate testosterone levels, and the quality of semen could suffer because of hypothyroidism or tuberculosis, kidney problems, mumps etc. Sperm ducts can get deformed or clogged due to some accident or for genetic reasons. That is not all. Infertility can also be caused by stress, deficiency of zinc and Vitamin C and, excessive exercising as well.
In a woman, there are two types of infertility. The first one is called primary infertility. It simply means a couple has not had a child even after 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse. The second one is called “secondary infertility”. This may sound peculiar, but secondary infertility is also applicable to women or couples who have been able to produce a first child but are not able to reproduce thereafter.
Again, this is due to multiple factors. One of the primary causes could be because fertility levels reduce in a woman after the age of 27 or so. At 30, the quality of the egg begins to get aged due to chromosomal damage. The quality of the egg could also get affected due to a condition in which the tissue lining the uterus could move into the abdomen. This condition is called as endometriosis. As the woman grows into her 30’s or 40’s, fibroids develop preventing the embryo from sticking to the wall of the uterus. Infertility in a woman could also be caused due to the fallopian tube getting damaged, ovulation disorders or polycystic ovary syndrome.
But, do not get disheartened. There are several ways of overcoming most of these problems. The age of the woman, however, is crucial. If you are over 35, it is better to seek medical help six months after trying unprotected sexual intercourse. If you are younger, you can wait for another six months (that is a full year) before you visit a doctor to begin the fertility process.