Infertility can be caused by many different things and for roughly 25% of couples, the cause cannot be identified.

Infertility is often thought of as a female concern, but in a third of cases it’s actually because of male problems, such as low sperm count.

Infertility in women can be caused by:

  • Endometriosis
  • Conditions affecting the uterus
  • Ovulatory problems
  • Damage to the fallopian tubes
  • PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)
  • Age
  • Lifestyle factors such as being overweight, smoking or stress
  • Scarring from surgery

Infertility in men can be caused:

  • Low sperm count or quality
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Problems with the tubes carrying sperm
  • Diabetes
  • Lifestyle factors such as being overweight or having a job that involves frequent contact with chemicals or radiation
  • Having received medical treatment such as radiotherapy or surgery

Infertility in women is most commonly caused by problems with ovulation, the monthly release of an egg.

Ovulation problems can stop an egg being released altogether, while others prevent an egg being released from some cycles but not others. Ovulation problems can be caused by:

  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
  • Thyroid problems – overactive and underactive thyroid
  • Premature ovarian failure – where a women’s ovaries stop working before the age of 40

There are lots of other ways a women’s infertility can be affected, so it’s extremely important that if you do suspect you have any problems, you keep an eye out for symptoms and seek advice from your GP where necessary. Read our blog post Reasons Why You Might Not Be Getting Pregnant for other common causes of infertility.

The most common cause of infertility in men is poor quality semen. Possible reasons for abnormal semen include:

  • A lack of sperm – you might have a very low sperm count, or no sperm at all
  • Sperm that aren’t moving properly – this will make it harder for sperm to swim to the egg
  • Abnormal sperm – sperm can sometimes be an abnormal shape, making it harder for them to move and fertilise an egg

There are lots of other possible reasons why a man’s sperm count might be low. You can read more about it here.

Identifying the cause of infertility is important to a certain extent – the earlier it’s recognised the sooner you can receive the most effective and relevant treatment. Although there are many different reasons why couples suffer from infertility, there’s still a large proportion of cases that remain undiagnosed, and it can be incredibly frustrating.

Regardless of whether the cause is diagnosed or undiagnosed, though, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the options available to you are limited, either way. If your fertility problems haven’t been identified, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that women with unexplained infertility who haven’t conceived after trying for two years should be offered IVF treatment.

What are the chances of pregnancy with unexplained infertility?

The longer the infertility, the less likely the couple is to conceive on their own, without treatment. So, whilst it’s not necessarily important that you find a cause for your infertility, it is important that you are diagnosed with infertility sooner rather than later. Seeking medical advice and support at the earliest possible point will help to increase your chances of getting pregnant.

Are you trying for a baby? Check out our Ovulation Calculator to see when your highest chances of getting pregnant are!

And if you’ve been trying for a while with no luck, and you suspect you have fertility problems, seek advice from your GP or answer a few questions on our Fertility Assessment.

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Andrew Drakeley

Mr Andrew Drakeley is the Clinical Director at the Hewitt Fertility Centre, working principally at the Liverpool Women’s site but with managerial responsibility for Knutsford.

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