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Infertility in male and female – Causes, Diagnosis and Management

What is Infertility?

  • Infertility refers to the inability to conceive or achieve a successful pregnancy after a year or more of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse. It is a medical condition that affects both men and women and can have various causes.
  • In women, infertility can be caused by issues such as hormonal imbalances, problems with ovulation (the release of eggs from the ovaries), structural abnormalities in the reproductive organs, blockages in the fallopian tubes, or conditions like endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Age can also be a factor as a woman’s fertility declines with age, particularly after the age of 35.
  • In men, infertility can be attributed to factors such as low sperm count, poor sperm motility (movement), abnormal sperm shape, or blockages in the male reproductive system. Other factors that can affect male fertility include hormonal imbalances, genetic disorders, and certain health conditions like diabetes or infections.
  • Infertility can also be caused by a combination of factors or may be unexplained, where no specific cause can be identified despite thorough testing.
  • It is important to note that infertility is a common problem, affecting millions of couples worldwide. However, advancements in medical technology and assisted reproductive techniques such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) offer hope to many couples facing infertility, helping them achieve pregnancy and have children. It is recommended for couples experiencing difficulty conceiving to consult with a healthcare professional or a fertility specialist for a proper evaluation and guidance.

Definition of Infertility

Infertility is the inability to conceive or achieve a successful pregnancy after a year or more of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse.

Causes of Infertility in Male

There are several potential causes of infertility in males. Some common factors that can contribute to male infertility include:

  1. Low sperm count: A low sperm count, also known as oligospermia, means that the semen contains fewer sperm than normal. This can decrease the chances of fertilizing an egg.
  2. Poor sperm motility: Sperm motility refers to the ability of sperm to move properly. If the sperm have low motility or are immobile, they may have difficulty reaching and fertilizing an egg.
  3. Abnormal sperm morphology: Sperm with abnormal shape or structure may have difficulty penetrating and fertilizing an egg.
  4. Testicular issues: Problems with the testicles, such as undescended testicles, testicular trauma, or testicular cancer, can affect sperm production and quality.
  5. Hormonal imbalances: Imbalances in hormones, such as low levels of testosterone or high levels of prolactin, can impact sperm production and function.
  6. Varicocele: A varicocele is a swelling of the veins that drain the testicles. It can lead to decreased sperm production or quality.
  7. Genetic disorders: Certain genetic conditions, such as Klinefelter syndrome or Y chromosome deletions, can cause infertility in males.
  8. Infections: Infections, such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or inflammation of the reproductive organs, can affect sperm production or function.
  9. Ejaculation disorders: Conditions that interfere with the normal ejaculation process, such as retrograde ejaculation (semen enters the bladder instead of exiting through the penis) or erectile dysfunction, can cause infertility.
  10. Lifestyle factors: Factors like excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco smoking, drug use, obesity, and certain medications can have a negative impact on male fertility.

Causes of Infertility in Female

Infertility in females can be caused by various factors. Here are some common causes:

  1. Ovulation disorders: Problems with ovulation, such as irregular or absent ovulation, can make it difficult for an egg to be released and available for fertilization. Conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and hormonal imbalances are common causes of ovulation disorders.
  2. Fallopian tube blockage or damage: Blockages or damage in the fallopian tubes can prevent the sperm from reaching the egg or hinder the fertilized egg from moving into the uterus. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), endometriosis, or previous pelvic surgeries can contribute to tubal issues.
  3. Uterine or cervical abnormalities: Structural problems in the uterus or cervix can affect fertility. Conditions like uterine fibroids, polyps, or abnormalities in the shape of the uterus can interfere with embryo implantation or block the passage of sperm.
  4. Endometriosis: This condition occurs when the tissue that normally lines the uterus (endometrium) grows outside the uterus, such as on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or other pelvic organs. Endometriosis can cause fertility problems by affecting the function of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus.
  5. Age-related factors: As women age, their fertility naturally declines. This is primarily due to a decrease in the number and quality of eggs. Fertility begins to decline significantly after the age of 35, and the chances of conceiving naturally decrease as women approach menopause.
  6. Hormonal imbalances: Imbalances in hormones, such as irregularities in the production or regulation of reproductive hormones, can disrupt the menstrual cycle and impair fertility.
  7. Pelvic adhesions: Adhesions, also known as scar tissue, can develop within the pelvis due to infections, surgeries, or previous pelvic inflammatory disease. These adhesions can interfere with the normal functioning of the reproductive organs.
  8. Autoimmune disorders: Certain autoimmune conditions, such as antiphospholipid syndrome or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), can affect fertility by causing inflammation or affecting the lining of the uterus.
  9. Ovarian disorders: Conditions like premature ovarian insufficiency (early menopause), ovarian cysts, or ovarian tumors can impact fertility by affecting egg production or quality.
  10. Other factors: Lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, stress, and certain medications can also contribute to infertility in females.

Diagnosis of Infertility in Female and Male

The diagnosis of infertility in both males and females involves a comprehensive evaluation that aims to identify any underlying factors contributing to the difficulty in conceiving. Here are the common diagnostic approaches for both sexes:

Diagnosis of Infertility in Females:

  1. Medical history: A thorough review of the woman’s medical history, including menstrual cycle patterns, past pregnancies, surgeries, and any relevant medical conditions or medications.
  2. Physical examination: A physical examination may be conducted to assess overall health, identify any anatomical abnormalities, or signs of hormonal imbalances.
  3. Ovulation assessment: Methods to evaluate ovulation include tracking menstrual cycles, monitoring basal body temperature, and assessing hormone levels (such as progesterone) during specific phases of the menstrual cycle.
  4. Ovarian reserve testing: These tests evaluate the quantity and quality of a woman’s eggs. Common tests include measuring levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH), and performing an antral follicle count via ultrasound.
  5. Imaging tests: Ultrasound imaging can help visualize the reproductive organs, identify any structural abnormalities or cysts, and assess the thickness of the uterine lining.
  6. Hysterosalpingography (HSG): This X-ray procedure involves injecting a contrast dye into the uterus and fallopian tubes to assess their shape and detect any blockages or abnormalities.
  7. Laparoscopy: In certain cases, a minimally invasive surgical procedure called laparoscopy may be performed to directly visualize the reproductive organs, identify endometriosis, or assess tubal patency.
  8. Hormonal testing: Blood tests may be conducted to assess hormone levels, including those related to ovulation (such as FSH, LH, estradiol, and progesterone).

Diagnosis of Infertility in Males:

  1. Medical history: An evaluation of the man’s medical history, including any prior surgeries, injuries, or medical conditions that may impact fertility.
  2. Physical examination: A physical examination may be performed to assess the genitals, including the testicles, for abnormalities in size, shape, or consistency.
  3. Semen analysis: This is a critical test that assesses the quality and quantity of sperm in the semen. It evaluates parameters such as sperm count, motility, morphology, and other factors related to sperm function.
  4. Hormonal testing: Blood tests may be conducted to measure hormone levels, including testosterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and prolactin, to assess hormonal balance and function.
  5. Imaging tests: Ultrasound imaging or other imaging techniques may be used to examine the reproductive organs, such as the testicles and the prostate, to identify any structural abnormalities or blockages.
  6. Genetic testing: In cases of severe male infertility or suspected genetic disorders, genetic testing may be recommended to identify any genetic abnormalities that may affect fertility.

Management of Infertility in Female and Male

The management of infertility in both females and males aims to address the underlying causes and optimize the chances of achieving a successful pregnancy. The specific treatment approach depends on the identified factors contributing to infertility. Here are some common management options:

Management of Infertility in Females:

  1. Ovulation induction: For women with ovulation disorders, medications such as clomiphene citrate or letrozole may be prescribed to stimulate ovulation.
  2. Surgery: Surgical interventions may be recommended to address structural abnormalities that are impacting fertility, such as removing uterine fibroids, correcting a septum in the uterus, or repairing blocked fallopian tubes.
  3. Assisted reproductive technologies (ART): Procedures like in vitro fertilization (IVF) involve the retrieval of eggs, fertilization with sperm in a laboratory, and transferring the resulting embryos into the uterus. IVF may be used in cases of various infertility causes, including tubal blockages, endometriosis, or unexplained infertility.
  4. Intrauterine insemination (IUI): In this procedure, prepared sperm is directly inserted into the uterus during the woman’s fertile period to increase the chances of fertilization.
  5. Donor eggs or sperm: In cases where the woman has poor egg quality or the male partner has severe sperm issues, the use of donor eggs or sperm may be considered for assisted reproduction.
  6. Hormone therapy: Hormone replacement therapy or medications may be prescribed to regulate hormone imbalances and improve fertility.
  7. Lifestyle modifications: Adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, weight management, and reducing stress can positively impact fertility.

Management of Infertility in Males:

  1. Medications: Certain medications may be prescribed to treat underlying conditions causing male infertility, such as hormonal imbalances, infections, or erectile dysfunction.
  2. Surgery: Surgical interventions may be performed to correct anatomical abnormalities, repair varicoceles (enlarged veins in the testicles), or retrieve sperm for assisted reproductive procedures.
  3. Assisted reproductive technologies (ART): Techniques like intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF) can be utilized when male infertility is severe. In cases of very low sperm count or motility, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) may be performed, where a single sperm is directly injected into an egg during IVF.
  4. Donor sperm: In situations where the male partner has a complete absence of sperm (azoospermia) or other severe sperm issues, donor sperm may be used for assisted reproduction.
  5. Lifestyle modifications: Similar to females, adopting a healthy lifestyle by avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and managing stress levels can positively influence male fertility.


How common is infertility in males and females?

Infertility affects approximately 10-15% of couples worldwide, with roughly equal contributions from male and female factors.

When should we seek medical help for infertility?

If you’ve been trying to conceive for a year or more without success (or six months if the woman is over 35), it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional or a fertility specialist for evaluation and guidance.

Can stress cause infertility?

While stress can impact overall health, severe or chronic stress alone is unlikely to be the sole cause of infertility. However, it can potentially affect reproductive health indirectly by disrupting hormone levels or influencing behaviors like irregular eating or sleeping patterns.

Can age affect fertility in both males and females?

Yes, age can impact fertility in both males and females. Women experience a decline in fertility as they age, primarily due to a decrease in the quantity and quality of eggs. In men, although they can continue to produce sperm throughout their lives, advancing age may affect sperm quality and increase the risk of genetic abnormalities.

Can sexually transmitted infections (STIs) cause infertility?

Yes, certain STIs, if left untreated, can lead to infertility in both males and females. In women, untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can damage the fallopian tubes. In men, certain STIs can lead to testicular damage or blockages in the reproductive tract.

Can lifestyle factors impact fertility?

Yes, certain lifestyle factors can affect fertility. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, drug use, obesity, poor nutrition, and exposure to environmental toxins can all contribute to infertility in both males and females.

Can previous abortions or miscarriages cause infertility?

In general, a single miscarriage or abortion is unlikely to cause long-term infertility. However, repeated miscarriages or certain complications during the procedures can potentially impact future fertility and should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Is infertility always a permanent condition?

No, infertility is not always permanent. With appropriate diagnosis and treatment, many couples can overcome infertility and successfully conceive. The specific outcome depends on the underlying causes and individual circumstances.

Can fertility treatments increase the chances of multiple pregnancies?

Yes, certain fertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), can increase the likelihood of multiple pregnancies, including twins or higher-order multiples. This is due to the practice of transferring multiple embryos to enhance the chances of successful pregnancy. However, the number of embryos transferred can be adjusted based on individual factors and preferences.

Are there any support groups or resources available for individuals or couples dealing with infertility?

Yes, there are numerous support groups, online forums, and counseling services available for individuals and couples experiencing infertility. These resources can provide emotional support, information, and a sense of community during the fertility journey.

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Why do Laboratory incubators need CO2? What is Karyotyping? What are the scope of Microbiology? What is DNA Library? What is Simple Staining? What is Negative Staining? What is Western Blot? What are Transgenic Plants? Breakthrough Discovery: Crystal Cells in Fruit Flies Key to Oxygen Transport What is Northern Blotting?
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