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What is infertility?

Around the world, infertility represents a major health and social problem. For women in many developing countries, the inability to have children can result in stigmatization and abandonment by their husbands. The highest rates of infertility in the world occur in sub-Saharan Africa--ranging from 10-21%. These high rates of infertility can partly be attributed to high rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and complications of delivery or unsafe abortions.

Infertility is the inability to achieve and/or maintain pregnancy. About 35% of infertility is the result of male factors (including the absence of sperm or abnormal or too few sperm), and another 35% is the result of female factors (including problems in ovulation, blocked or scarred fallopian tubes, and endometriosis). In other cases, infertility results from a combination of both male and female factors, or it cannot be explained. Although it can take some couples longer than 12 months to achieve pregnancy, many people seek infertility treatment if they haven't achieved pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected and well-timed intercourse.

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When should you seek infertility treatment or support?

If you have had trouble trying to get pregnant, you may want to seek additional help and information about infertility treatment.

RESOLVE (, a U.S. based national infertility support group, provides a wide range of information about treatment options and referrals to infertility specialists. They suggest seeking help if you have been trying to conceive for more than 12 months and:

  • are over 35 years of age
  • have irregular menstrual cycles or a history of pelvic infection
  • your partner had an undescended testicle at birth, hernia repair, or a history of urinary infections
  • you've had two or more pregnancy losses

The following resources also have further information about infertility:

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Risk Factors for Infertility

Throughout the world, 38% of infertility can be traced to a previous sexually transmitted infection (STI). When left untreated, many STIs can place women and men at risk for becoming infertile. Untreated gonorrhea and chlamydia in women can spread into the pelvic area and infect the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries--leading to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). In men, chlamydia can affect the testicles--also leading to problems with fertility.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the internal female reproductive organs, usually affecting the uterus, one or both fallopian tubes, the ovaries, and surrounding pelvic tissues. These tissues become inflamed, irritated, and swollen. PID is caused by untreated STIs, tuberculosis, and other types of bacteria and microorganisms.

PID can lead to infertility, because of the scar tissue that forms around the pelvic organs. This scar tissue can cause blockage and distortion of the fallopian tubes so that the egg cannot get through the tube and into the uterus. After one episode of PID, a woman has an estimated 15% chance of infertility. After two episodes, the risk rises to 35%. After three episodes, the risk for infertility is nearly 75%.

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[ || Pregnancy || Informed Choice || Infections and Diseases || Quality of Care || Emerging Issues ]
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