A Comprehensive Guide to Infertility
When you have been unsuccessful so far at having a baby, the term “infertility” may be said to you by your doctors or by a specialist. But what is infertility? What causes it? Are there treatment options available to ensure you can form the family you’ve always wanted anyway?
Here in our guide to infertility, we will take you through all of these answers, as well as the signs and symptoms of infertility, so you can enter a checkup or consultation with a doctor feeling informed about potential problems. Read on and learn more, or contact us today to speak to a member of staff and book an appointment.
What is Infertility?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the definition of infertility is “the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse”. This may then be split into male infertility, which refers to a man’s apparent inability to impregnate a woman, and female infertility, which refers to a woman’s apparent inability to naturally conceive and become pregnant.
The Types of Infertility
Two types of infertility can affect both men and women:
- Primary infertility, in which a couple has never been able to have children together
- Secondary infertility, in which a couple have had children before but has not managed to conceive again, despite trying
It is important to note that either partner may be experiencing problems related to their fertility, and on some occasions both may be experiencing fertility issues at the same time. This is more common than many people think, which is why it’s so strongly recommended that both you and your partner seek medical advice if you are having trouble conceiving when you would like.
We must also reinforce the idea that this is nothing to be ashamed of. Many couples across the UK and all over the world are in the same position as you, so you are not alone in your struggle. Knowing more about the problems you’re having through tests and assessments may also result in them being dealt with sooner, meaning that you could be more likely to conceive in the future.
Hearing the word “infertility” can often feel like the end of your journey, but it doesn’t have to be. For many looking to expand their families, treatments will be available that can help them and their partners to conceive. We’ve discussed these in greater depth below, and if you should decide to take the road to parenthood with us they will also be discussed with you in person when you have a consultation with one of our fertility specialists.
What are the Signs of Infertility?
For both male and female patients, the first and most obvious sign of infertility will be the inability to conceive after a year or more of unprotected sex. For biologically female patients, this time frame will fall to 6 months if they are over the age of 35. In any case, the inability to conceive should be your first point of reference if you believe there may be an issue with your fertility. Many of the other signs and symptoms won’t present themselves until further tests and examinations are carried out, or may be present but not seem related to your fertility, so spotting this may tell you whether or not you need to speak to a professional.
There are also several signs and symptoms of infertility that will only apply based on biological sex:
Signs of Infertility in Women
For female patients, or for patients who are nonbinary or transgender but were born female, the other most common signs and symptoms of infertility will usually be related to their menstrual cycle. However, these are not the only indications that you may have to look out for. The safest thing that you can do is make note of any changes and speak to your doctor if you feel that something may be wrong.
Common signs of female infertility include:
- Abnormal bleeding on your period (an extremely heavy period)
- Blood in your urine or bowel movements
- Irregular periods (meaning they vary so greatly that you cannot even estimate when they will arrive)
- Experiencing pain during sexual intercourse
- Having a menstrual cycle that’s fewer than 21 days or longer than 35 days in length
- Having no period at all for months
- Having very painful periods
- Signs and symptoms related to hormonal fluctuation (e.g. severe acne, a reduced sex drive, weight gain, growth of facial hair or thinning hair elsewhere)
Some of the symptoms we have listed here are signs that you may have developed polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This medical condition can result in anovulatory cycles, meaning that your body may not release an egg during a particular month. Other symptoms listed here, particularly symptoms such as hair thinning, may be early signs of other conditions relating to infertility. These may be problems with your thyroid, anaemia, or even autoimmune disorders.
If you are experiencing any of these, we strongly recommend that you speak with your doctor right away. Having any problems diagnosed early may help to give you peace of mind, and may result in easier or more effective treatment as a result.
Signs of Infertility in Men
For men, or for nonbinary or transgender patients who were born male, the signs and symptoms of infertility will generally be related to other underlying issues. Male infertility is common in patients who are also living with genetic diseases, inherited disorders, hormonal imbalances, dilated veins around the testicle, or conditions that block the passage of sperm.
Signs and symptoms of male infertility include:
- A lower than normal sperm count (recorded at lower than 15 million sperm per millilitre of semen)
- Abnormal breast growth (gynecomastia)
- Blood in your semen
- Decreased facial or body hair, or other signs of hormonal or chromosomal abnormalities
- Having small, firm testicles
- Pain, swelling, or lumps in the testicle area
- Problems with sexual function (meaning changes in sexual desire, difficulties with ejaculation, or erectile dysfunction)
- Recurrent respiratory infections (which may be a sign of Kartagener syndrome)
- The inability to smell (which may be a sign of Kallmann syndrome)
If you are having issues with sexual function, or have noticed pain, lumps, or swelling in your testicles, then we strongly recommend that you speak to a professional as soon as possible. Having symptoms diagnosed, and treated as soon as possible should bring you some relief, and will be better for your overall health in the long term.
It is also advised that you speak to your doctor or a fertility specialist if you have a history of testicle, prostate, or sexual problems. This also applies if you have previously had surgery or suffered an injury to your groin, testicles, penis, or scrotum.
Causes of Infertility
The causes of infertility in both men and women may be split into several different categories, based on health and medical conditions, lifestyle choices, and environmental impacts.
We have information on and a list of causes of infertility here on our website if you would like to learn more. What each of these affects will depend on whether the patient is biologically male or female:
For a biologically female patient, every step in the reproductive process has to take place correctly for pregnancy to occur. This means that their ovaries have to release a healthy, mature egg and their fallopian tubes have to pick it up. This egg must then travel down and be met by sperm swimming up in the other direction. Once the two have met and mixed, the fertilised egg will have to travel down the rest of the way to the uterine lining (the wall of the uterus), which must be thick enough for it to attach and start to grow.
If any of these do not occur as they should because of something that is causing infertility, it is unlikely that a pregnancy will take place.
For a biologically male patient, sperm production must be occurring and occurring correctly for fertilisation and conception to take place. The way the male reproductive system produces sperm is complex, and even one issue happening in one particular area can cause fertility problems as a result.
The body requires healthy function in the testicles, the hypothalamus, and the pituitary glands (the organs in the brain responsible for hormones which trigger sperm production). It also requires the delicate system of tubes that transport sperm to be healthy and fully functional, as these allow sperm to be transported to and mixed with semen, before eventual ejaculation.
Unfortunately, there is also the possibility that the reason for a person’s infertility may never be discovered, even after tests and evaluations. This is known as “unexplained infertility”, and is said to affect between 10% and 30% of those with fertility issues.
We also understand that this may be concerning, but it is important to remember that unexplained infertility does not mean that you will never have a baby. For many, the issue will correct itself over time, or it may simply be a case of having further tests or treatments.
Diagnosing Infertility in Men and Women
When you decide to speak to your doctor about the possibility of infertility, they should begin any diagnosis by asking some questions related to:
- Any medications you take
- Any previous pregnancies or children
- How often you and your partner have sex
- The length of time you have spent trying to conceive
- The length of time you or your female partner have been off contraception
- Your lifestyle
- Your medical history and symptoms you are having
After this they may move on to carrying out a physical examination or refer you to a fertility specialist for further testing.
Treatment Options for Infertility
There are many treatment options available for both male and female infertility, though most doctors will suggest that patients try to conceive naturally for a little while longer. Many people who do not manage to have a baby within the first year of trying will succeed in the second without any further assistance required.
There are also several lifestyle changes that patients can take to improve their fertility potential in their day-to-day life:
- Making sure they are eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight
- Moderating alcohol consumption, or even avoiding it entirely
- Stopping smoking
- Avoiding recreational drugs
- Having sex every 2 to 3 days
- Reducing sources of stress
If these suggestions do not work, or a diagnosis has already been made that suggests they will not work, there are also a number of specialist treatment options that can help patients to conceive anyway:
- Assisted reproductive technology (ART), which includes treatments such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI)
- Hormone treatments and medications
- Treatments and antibiotics for infections and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Surgery (particularly for cases of blocked or scarred fallopian tubes, PCOS, or endometriosis)
- Treatments for problems with sexual functioning (this may mean medication or counselling)
How GENNET City Fertility Can Help
For those looking to start the journey to parenthood as soon as possible, or even for those who simply wish to monitor their fertility potential, GENNET City Fertility has a range of options for both expertly diagnosing and treating infertility:
Our professional tests, investigations, and assessments can offer you the information and the reassurance you need. If you are single, we would recommend either the Male Fertility Assessment or the Female Fertility Assessment, as best fits your needs.
If you are in a relationship, both of these assessments may be combined (for heterosexual couples) or doubled (for couples within the LGBTQ+ community) to form the Couples’ Initial Consultation Package. This package offers one Male and one Female, or two Male or two Female, Fertility Assessments together, making it more affordable.
Our Fertility Treatment Options
Once you have been through consultation and assessment with us and you have decided that you would like us to help you take the next step on the way to forming your family, we will be glad to help you form a bespoke treatment plan designed and suitable for your exact needs. This will consist of the treatment options you would like to try and feel comfortable undergoing, and may include:
- Ovulation induction
- Frozen-Thawed Embryo Transfers (FET)
- Egg Freezing
- Egg Donation
- Sperm Freezing
- Male Treatments
- Laboratory Methods (these may improve treatments’ chances of success)
Book a Consultation with Us
If you would like some help taking the next step on the road to parenthood, or even if you are just trying to be mindful of your fertility, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. Our friendly team will be ready and waiting to get you booked in for a free, 30-minute mini consultation with a specialist as soon as you are ready.
After an initial assessment has been conducted, our specialist can point you in the direction of the tests, assessments, and treatment options that will be most suitable for you. These will then go towards the basis of your bespoke treatment plan, and you will be able to rest assured that our team knows you as well as you need.
We can help you overcome the obstacle that is infertility so that you can expand your family as you have always wanted.