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Do I have a fertility problem?

Couple with fertility problem
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Many of us spend years actively trying not to conceive so it often comes as a shock to discover that when broodiness kicks in, getting pregnant may not be as simple as just having lots of sex. Unfortunately many couples only find that they have a fertility problem when they begin trying to conceive.

What is infertility?

Put simply, infertility is the inability to get pregnant despite having regular unprotected sexual intercourse.  There are two types of infertility.  Primary infertility is when someone has trouble conceiving at all and secondary infertility is when someone who has already conceived at least once cannot get pregnant again.

What causes infertility?

The number of different possible causes of infertility is almost endless.  One of the most common factors is a problem with ovulation where eggs are only released on some cycles or not at all.  Abnormal semen is another frequent problem, caused by low sperm count or decreased sperm mobility.  However there are a number of other factors, including medication, damage to the testicles and STIs, which cannot be discounted and in 25-30% of couples the cause of infertility is never discovered.

Fertility tests

As a first step your doctor is likely to ask you and your partner about your relationship, health history, sex life and general lifestyle.  Things like smoking, drinking, stress and being under or overweight can all affect fertility so your GP will want to rule these things out first.  As you’d expect, there are a range of fertility tests available to determine if there is a fertility problem and where it lies.  Men can expect an examination of the testicles and penis to check for any lumps or abnormalities.  Other tests can include chlamydia testing and a sperm test to ensure a normal sperm count and mobility level. For women the process can be a little more intrusive.  The first step is likely to be blood tests to confirm that you are ovulating or to detect hormone imbalances.  Further investigations can include a swab of the cervix to check for chlamydia or a thyroid function test if you show signs of having a thyroid abnormality.  If these tests come back clear then various x-rays and ultrasounds can be used to look for blockages in the fallopian tubes and abnormalities in the womb.  If there is a strong possibility that you have a problem you may be sent for a laparoscopy to allow specialists to have a better look at your womb, ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Negative pregnancy test

What treatment is available?

Obviously treatment will depend on the underlying problem but there are other factors to take into account, such as what is offered by your local primary care trust and whether it has any criteria for eligibility.  NHS waiting lists can be long so many people with the funds to do so often opt for treatment at a private clinic.  Wherever you receive your treatment, there are three ways it can be provided; medicinal treatment to help boost fertility, surgery to resolve issues or assisted conception.  The treatment you are offered will be related to the reason for your infertility and while IVF may be the most well known fertility treatment, other avenues may be better for your particular circumstances.

Dealing with a fertility problem

Dealing with infertility can be physically and emotionally challenging for both partners.  Feelings of guilt, despair, fear and questioning ‘why us?’ are all common, yet infertility isn’t something that everyone is comfortable sharing with family and friends.  If you feel it is too private to discuss in person or that nobody you know really understands, then you may be able to find an empathic ear online. Up to one in six couples experience difficulty conceiving, many of who are members of support networks, which can be invaluable in finding someone to talk to who understands the issues you are working through.  Fertility clinics have to provide a counselling service for patients before, during and after treatment.  This can also be useful in helping you understand what the treatment involved entails and talk things over.

I think we may have a fertility problem; what should we do?

It can easily take up to a year or more for couples to conceive but if you have been trying for a baby for over 12 months then it is worth paying your GP a visit.  Your doctor can test for fertility problems and offer advice on what to do next.  You should ask for help sooner if you are a woman over 35 or if you have a reason to believe you may experience fertility problems (such as having an STI or having received treatment for cancer).

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About Maria Brett

About Maria Brett

Maria is a freelance writer with over 10 years' experience producing content for a variety of publications and websites. When not working or looking after her two gorgeous sons, she can usually be found playing flugelhorn in a brass band, helping out at her local hospital radio station, shouting at the television while watching Formula 1, at the cinema or plonked on the couch with a cold glass of wine.

Website: Maria Brett

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