This article recently appeared in the Health Matters Column of the Princeton Packet...
So You Want to Have a Baby?
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after engaging in unprotected sex for one year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What causes fertility problems?
It can be a number of factors. Dr. Seth Derman of Princeton IVF and Delaware Valley OBGYN, said that approximately 40 percent of the fertility issues he sees are due to male problems, 40 percent are due to female problems, and 20 percent a combination of both partners.
”The exact cause of male infertility is a little harder to diagnose because it’s not well understood,” Dr. Derman said. “With female infertility, the most common cause is ovulation problems, which usually show up as irregular cycles. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is the most common of these.”
Fertility problems can be caused by endometriosis. They also can be linked to damage to the fallopian tubes, which can be caused by previous sexually transmitted diseases. This is particularly a problem in women who have had prior Chlamydia infections.
And sometimes infertility has no identifiable cause.
What options exist for treatment?
”Well, it depends what’s wrong,” Dr. Derman said. “If there’s an ovulation problem, usually the treatment is fairly simple with fertility drugs. These are medications that induce ovulation, such as clomid or letrozole.”
”For tubal problems — the treatment is usually surgery or IVF (in vitro fertilization),” Dr. Derman said. “IVF is clearly the most effective treatment for these problems.”
Oftentimes the most effective option involves treating the female partner. IVF allows for the sperm to be injected directly into the egg, and is the most effective treatment for male infertility. “The poorer the husband’s sperm the more likely the couple will need more invasive treatment such as IVF,” Dr. Derman said.
A less invasive alternative to IVF is insemination, in which sperm is injected up into the uterus. In contrast, IVF involves fertilization of the egg outside of the body, and the transfer of that embryo into the woman’s womb. It is also much more effective than insemination. When patients have unexplained infertility, insemination is oftentimes done first, and if that doesn’t work then they may try IVF, Dr. Derman said.
What are the odds of success?
Typical fertile couples have a 20 to 25 percent chance of getting pregnant each month. Infertile couples have a 3 percent chance when trying on their own. IVF increases the odds of having a child to twice what it would be in a fertile couple. Those numbers can vary based on age.
IVF is very often successful in the first or second cycle, particularly in young women. If it isn’t successful, it’s not unusual for a couple to try three or four times, according to Dr. Derman.
Who pays for IVF?
In New Jersey, the Family Building Act (August 2001) requires companies with more than 50 employees to cover fertility testing and treatment, including IVF. There are exceptions in the law, and since the passage of healthcare reform, those exceptions have gotten even larger.
Some of the other treatments can be relatively inexpensive. “For instance, treatment using fertility pills and some monitoring is not terribly expensive,” Dr. Derman said.
When should you go see a fertility doctor?
”Generally, over 35, we recommend coming after six months,” Dr. Derman said. “If they are under 35, one year is the right time.”
What should you expect when you go see a fertility doctor? When patients go to see Dr. Derman for the first time, the first stage in the process is to try to understand why they are unable to conceive. After getting a detailed history, tests will be ordered, which include testing to make sure their eggs are not running out, to make sure their tubes are open, to make sure the ovulation process is going well and that the sperm is normal. After getting a clearer picture of what is going on, they can better determine the next steps.
”Not everybody with infertility needs IVF, even though it is the most effective treatment out there,” Dr. Derman said. “IVF is the last thing that we do, not the first thing.”