What is infertility?

A couple are said to experience infertility when they are having regular, unprotected sex but do not manage to conceive. Some experts and organisations state this is true after a year of trying, while others insist that a couple can only be considered infertile after two years of trying.

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In some people, physical signs or previous illness point to a clear reason for infertility. A woman who has had pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis, and whose fallopian tubes are blocked, is unlikely to conceive. Similarly, a woman who has gone into menopause prematurely in her early 30s will not be able to get pregnant. In men, undescended testicles can mean that the sperm are not capable of fertilising an egg because the temperature inside the body is too high for them to mature properly.

In most cases, however, the reasons for infertility are difficult to pin down. Despite many tests, infertility persists when there is no apparent cause. It is also possible for a couple to have one child without any problems and then to experience infertility when they try for another a couple of years later. This is defined as secondary infertility, whereas not being able to conceive at all is termed primary infertility.

In the past, infertility had to be accepted as a fact of life but the development of modern infertility treatments has brought about a huge change. Couples experiencing infertility are now able to seek help and advice to find out what is causing their problem, and to have infertility treatments to allow them to have one or more children. This can be an emotionally exhausting process, and it can be costly depending on which country you live in and how easily you can access infertility treatments. However, at least couples facing infertility today have options.

What are infertility treatments? Any medical intervention that is done to assist a couple to have their own child can be considered an infertility treatment. This can be as simple as receiving advice on the right time of the month to have regular sex, and as complex as a cycle of in vitro fertilisation that includes surgical sperm retrieval and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

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