What Causes Infertility?
In roughly one third of cases infertility can be attributed to factors affecting men, which may include a low sperm count (oligospermia), poor sperm motility or lifespan, or azoospermia where no sperm cells are produced. A number of studies have suggested that the average sperm count in the male population is falling. This may be caused by a large number of factors including environmental pollutants and pesticides, alcohol and smoking.
In another third of cases infertility can be attributed to factors affecting women, such as problems connected to egg production and release, blockages in the fallopian tubes, or structural defects of the uterus such as fibroids. Pelvic infections, especially Chlamydia, may cause damage and scarring to the fallopian tubes, and there is a national screening programme being rolled out to young people in the UK, offering them confidential screening for Chlamydia. Irregular periods may be a sign that the ovaries are not producing and releasing eggs every month. This can usually be detected by measuring the levels of progesterone in the blood during the second half of the menstrual cycle. Drugs such as Clomiphene can often successfully stimulate the ovaries to release an egg, although there is a slightly increased chance of having a multiple pregnancy (e.g. twins or triplets).
Modern scientific techniques can often overcome these obstacles and a successful pregnancy will follow.
For around a third of infertile couples however, there is no clear cause found and this can be a very frustrating situation. Women over 35 are nearly twice as likely to present with unexplained infertility problems. In recent years there has been increasing interest in the use of acupuncture in the field of infertility. Acupuncture may be used alongside treatments such as IVF and IUI. Dr Curtin has a special interest in this area, and is currently researching the latest studies looking at the use of acupuncture alongside IVF.