Last week I got a call from one of my patients, who conceived after long period of infertility. She called me to remind me that, that very days was the birthday of her son, that is the wealth that she gained after long battle. And even the son tried to talk to me over phone with his soft voice. And this success is really rewarding for any Infertility Specialists.
When couples get married, they often view parenthood as the next stage in their family life. They want to have a child, they want to be “mom” and “dad”, they cannot imagine that this may be hard to achieve or may not be a natural process. When several trials to conceive fail, they are shocked. Their basic expectation about family life gets shattered. Most of the couples are desperately looking for medical therapy that will end into a misery. Clearly this is not a struggle to survive; it is a struggle to fulfill a dream, to achieve what they view as a “full life”.
What is needed for pregnancy?
In the male partner, sperms are normally produced in the testes after puberty (after attainment of characters like growth of beard, moustache etc). From the testes, they are carried through the sperm conducting ducts (epididymis, vas, seminal vesicle and prostate gland). Then during sexual stimulation, after proper erection and ejaculation, they come out through penis. During sexual intercourse, these sperms, present in semen, are deposited inside the vagina.
In female partner, the deposited sperms must travel from vagina through the cervix (the mouth of the uterus). The cervix acts as gate-keeper, a it prevents entry of dead and abnormal sperms as well as bacteria present in semen, in the uterus. From uterus, sperms reach the Fallopian tubes (the tubes that are attached to the both sides of the uterus) where the sperms must meet the egg (ovum). The eggs are produced only before birth and so, there are fixed number of eggs inside the ovary. The ovum released from the ovary, into the abdomen at the time of ovulation (rupture of the surface of ovary to release the ovum). That ovum must be taken by the tube and thus inside the tube an embryo (earliest form of the baby) is formed, by meeting of the egg and the sperm.
It should be mentioned that out of nearly 200-300 million sperms, in average, deposited in vagina, hardly 500- 800 sperms can reach near the eggs and only one will succeed to form the embryo. The embryo then travels through the tube into the uterus and the uterus attaches the embryo firmly with it and thus the pregnancy starts. So, if there is defect in any one of them there will be difficulty in achieving pregnancy.
Thus, to summarise, pregnancy requires
1.Production of healthy (“Normal Morphology”) and movable (“Normal Motility”) sperms in adequate number (“Normal Count”) in the testes
2.Transport of these sperms through the sperm conducting ducts from testes to penis
3.Successful Erection and Ejaculation during Intercourse to deposit adequate number of these sperms in the vagina
4.Transport of these sperms from vagina through cervix to the uterus and the tubes
5.Presence of sufficient number of eggs inside the ovary and ability to release the eggs from the ovaries
6.Pick up of the eggs by the tubes
7.Approximation of eggs and the sperms to form the embryo
8.Transport of embryo from the tubes into the uterus
9.Acceptance of the embryo by the uterus and its growth
What is Infertility?
Literally, the word “Infertility” means inability to conceive. But in reality, there are very few couples, who have no chance of natural conception and are called “Absolutely Infertile”. In fact, in many couples who present to infertility clinics, pregnancy may be the matter of time, thus the chance factor.
It should be kept in mind that, if there is factors to question fertility of either male or female or the female is of age less than 35 years; after one cycle (one month) of regular frequent intercourse, the chance of conception in human being is only 15%. That means, out of 100 couples trying for conception, only 15 will be able to succeed after one month of trying. The word “Regular” and “Frequent” are important; because to achieve pregnancy, couples are advised to keep intimate relationships for at least 2-3 times a week and this should be increased particularly around the time of ovulation (Middle of the menstrual cycle). Thus chance of pregnancy after 6 months, 12 months and 24 months of regular trying are respectively 60%, 80% and 100%.
The word, “Subfertility” seems better and more scientific than “Infertility”, to describe the couples who have reduced chance of conception, due to any cause. However, the word “Infertility”, seems more popular, although it puts pressure on the couples. In most cases, usually we advise to investigate after one year of regular and frequent intercourse, when the couples fail to conceive. However, if there are factors to question fertility; for example female with age more than 35 years, or with previous surgery in tubes/ ovaries/ uterus or known diseases like PCOS or endometriosis; or male partner having surgery in scrotum or groin or any hormonal problems or sexual dysfunctions- the wait period is usually reduced and couples can be investigated, even soon after marriage.
What causes Infertility?
Please look at the point “Thus, to summarise, pregnancy requires” where 9 points have been mentioned.
Thus the common causes may be
1.Problems in male- total absence of production of sperms, less than adequate number of sperms, problems in morphology and motility of sperms (most sperms not healthy or movable), blockage in transport of sperms and inability to deposit sperms in the vagina (sexual dysfunction- Erectile Dysfunction or less commonly, Ejaculatory Dysfunction). Examples include hormonal problems (Testosterone, thyroid, prolactin), diabetes, liver problems, causes present since birth, chromosomal abnormalities, surgery, infection, sexually transmitted diseases, smoking, exposure of scrotum to high temperature, some medicines or psychological causes.
2.Problems in female- total absence of less than adequate number of eggs in the ovaries, problems in ovulation, problems in picking of eggs by the tubes, blockage of tubes, problems in conduction of sperms or embryo by the uterus, problems in accepting the embryos by the uterus. Examles include causes present since birth, chromosomal abnormalities, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), old age, increased weight, fibroid, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory diseases (PID), tuberculosis (TB), infections, smoking, surgery, some medicines, hormonal problems (thyroid, prolactin) or excessive stress.
3.Unknown causes- Despite thorough investigations, 25-30% causes of infertility remain unknown. This is called “Unexplained Infertility”. The reason may be mere chance factors or there may be some causes which, still medical science has yet to discover. But this should be kept in mind while treating infertility. That means, even with correction of the possible factors (like improving sperm counts or thyroid problems etc) or with proper treatment (IUI, IVF or ICSI), unfortunately the treatment can fail and the exact reason, why the treatment failed, is sometimes difficult to find out.
Treatment of Infertility
To start with, please remember there is no hard and fast rules for infertility treatment. Often medical science fails to understand why couples with very severe form of infertility conceive sooner than those who are having all tests normal. That means, whatever treatment is offered, it’s very important to continue regular sexual intercourse, as the chance of natural pregnancy is usually there in almost all couples. Your doctor will present the facts to you, without pressurizing you on a particular option. After coming to know all pros and cons of different treatment options, you can take decision. Do not hurry. It’s quite natural that you might be in stress.
In general, after the initial tests, a few periods of natural trying is allowed. After that, ovulation induction (giving medicines to release eggs from the ovaries) is offered, failing which IUI and finally IVF is offered. What will be the preferred treatment for you, will depend on your age, duration of marriage, male and female factors and of course, your age. For example, a woman with both tubes blocked or a male with very low sperm count, IVF would be the first line of treatment.
So, infertility treatment is actually based on stepwise manner. We initially advise some tests and then advise a treatment. If that treatment fails, we move to next treatment.
So, all the time, you have to keep patience. Eventually, majority of the couples will conceive. Don't give up hope. You have to win the race ultimately