In November 2009 the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially recognised infertility as a disease. Significantly, infertility is defined as “a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse”.
Infertility in women was ranked the 5th highest serious global disability (among populations under the age of 60).
When a woman is unable to ever bear a child, either due to the inability to become pregnant or the inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth she would be classified as having primary infertility. Thus women whose pregnancy spontaneously miscarries, or whose pregnancy results in a still born child, without ever having had a live birth would present with primary infertility.
When a woman is unable to bear a child, either due to the inability to become pregnant or the inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth following either a previous pregnancy or a previous ability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth, she would be classified as having secondary infertility. Thus those who repeatedly spontaneously miscarry or whose pregnancy results in a stillbirth, or following a previous pregnancy or a previous ability to do so, are then not unable to carry a pregnancy to a live birth would present with secondary infertility.
Facts and Statistics about Infertility
- A couple is regarded as infertile when they have not conceived after 12 months of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.
- About 1 in 6 couples of reproductive age have a fertility problem.
- Infertility is not just a female problem. In about 40% of infertile couples, the problem is a male factor, in about 40% it is a female one, and for the remaining 20% it is a joint problem, or the cause is unknown (“idiopathic”).
- The causes of infertility are many and varied. They include problems with the production of sperm or eggs, with the Fallopian tubes or the uterus, endometriosis, frequent miscarriage, as well as hormonal and autoimmune (antibody) disorders in both men and women.
- Treatments for infertility are many and varied. Treatments vary from surgery on the Fallopian tubes to fix blockages, hormone treatments for men and women, insemination of the woman with donor sperm or sometimes her partner’s sperm, IVF and related treatments such as GIFT. Some people try natural treatments, such as herbs, acupuncture and meditation. Some couples will opt to create a family by adoption while others remain without children.
- “Just relaxing” or taking a holiday does not cure “infertility”.
- For 20% of couples there is no proven medical cause. “Unexplained” infertility is just that – it means that we’re not yet able to find the cause.
- There is no evidence to suggest that stress causes infertility. There is plenty of evidence, however, that infertility causes stress!
- How long does it “normally” take to become pregnant? Three out of five couples conceive within six months of trying; one in four take between six months and a year. For the rest, conception takes more than a year which means that there may be a problem.