Infertility is a term used for people who have difficulty getting pregnant despite regular unprotected sex; it affects an estimated one in seven couples. While it’s a problem that affects many people, it can feel incredibly isolating and frustrating. There are many reasons why you or your partner may be experiencing difficulties conceiving and there are several treatments available depending on the cause of your difficulties. We’ve outlined the main types of fertility treatment to help you on your path to conception.
There are many reasons why you might be experiencing infertility and tests will be able to determine the most likely cause. Infertility problems can affect either partner, and common causes include irregular ovulation, low quality semen, blocked or damaged fallopian tubes, or endometriosis.
There are other factors that can impact your fertility, including age, weight, stress, environmental factors such as exposure to certain pesticides or solvents, or excessive smoking or alcohol consumption. Certain STIs such as chlamydia can also affect fertility.
The treatment you’ll receive will depend on the cause of the issue, and what your doctor recommends, but the three main types of treatment for fertility are:
There are several medicines available for fertility issues, including clomid tablets which contain clomiphene to encourage ovulation in women who don’t ovulate regularly or at all, and Tamoxifen which is an alternative to clomiphene for ovulatory issues.
Gonadotrophins can stimulate ovulation and can also be used to improve fertility in men with fertility difficulties, and Metformin may be prescribed for women suffering with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
It’s important to speak to your consultant about the side effects of these medications, as they can vary from nausea and headaches to vomiting and hot flushes. Likewise, if you’re already taking medication, it’s essential that you confirm with your consultant that there are no contradictions with your fertility medication to avoid negative side effects.
Surgical procedures are used to investigate infertility in more depth and to aid fertility. For example, fallopian tube surgery may be prescribed to repair broken or scarred fallopian tubes, helping to break up scar tissue so that the egg can travel through more easily.
For women with endometriosis, where parts of the womb lining grow outside of the womb, laparoscopic surgery can help to remove cysts and submucosal fibroids which may have developed in the womb.
There are also surgical procedures for infertile men, such as correcting epididymal blockages which prevent sperm from being ejaculated. Surgical extraction of sperm can also be prescribed for men who either have an obstruction preventing a normal release of sperm, who have no vas deferens tube which drains sperm from the testicles, or who have had a vasectomy.
As with any surgery, there are associated risks, such as the potential for complications. It’s important that you and your partner weigh up the pros and cons of each option before deciding on the best surgery for your situation.
IUI, which is also referred to as ‘artificial insemination’, is the process of inserting sperm into the womb surgically via a plastic tube through the cervix. The highest quality sperm are selected in order to increase the chances of successful implantation, and this process is often coupled with other treatments such as the FSH injection.
IVF is one of the most common infertility treatments and it describes the process of fertilising an egg outside of the body and then implanting it into the womb where it grows and develops if it implants successfully. ICSI is a form of IVF, however the key difference is the sperm is directly injected into the egg to create fertilization.
Finally, there’s egg or sperm donation that can be used to help couples conceive. Treatment using donor eggs or sperm is typically carried out using IVF.
It can help to make lifestyle choices to assist your fertility treatments, to improve your health and wellbeing and put your body in the best health for pregnancy and parenthood. Excessive tobacco and alcohol consumption in men and women can be damaging to the body, including contributing to infertility, so it’s worth cutting back or avoiding completely to boost your health.
If you’re on any prescription or non-prescription medication, discuss this with your GP as there are certain drugs which can affect your fertility – your GP may be able to prescribe an alternative in its place if the medication you’re taking may affect your fertility. However, don’t stop any medications suddenly without first discussing it with your doctor.
There’s a lot to consider when choosing infertility treatments, from the length of the treatment to the side effects and risks associated with each. Coming to terms with infertility can be emotionally draining, so it’s important to make the decisions as a couple, where relevant, and seek advice and guidance where possible to ensure you’re making the right choices for you and your relationship.