Infertility can be a challenging and disheartening diagnosis, especially in cases where couples are eager to have a child together. But infertility does not necessarily mean that conception will be impossible. The right approach to fertility treatment can greatly improve your chances of successfully conceiving a child and becoming a parent. The good news is that there are a variety of infertility treatment options on the market today.
However, it can be difficult to determine the best approach for your circumstances without talking to your OBGYN. Identifying your best infertility treatment could depend on discovering the root cause of your infertility. But there are options available even in cases where no discernible cause can be found. Knowing which options are best for you and your situation will likely require consultation with a specialist.
What Causes Infertility?
The causes of infertility are not immediately clear in all cases. In fact, for roughly 5%-15% of all couples, every diagnostic test comes back normal and the root cause ultimately cannot be identified. These couples may take a generalized approach to their infertility treatments. For others, finding a direct cause of infertility can suggest more specific treatment plans.
In most cases, both partners in any couple will undergo basic fertility diagnostics to determine if a specific cause can be identified. You and your OBGYN will then work together to address any issues your tests may have identified and develop an individualized set of infertility treatment options.
How to Determine the Cause of Infertility
When infertility is suspected, doctors typically recommend several tests be run on each partner. For men, those tests will include a physical exam and sperm analysis. Women can expect a physical exam, a pelvic exam, blood tests to measure hormones, and various ultrasounds. In most cases, these tests are able to point to causes behind infertility and doctors can then formulate an appropriate treatment plan.
Infertility Treatment Options
The right infertility treatment plan will be tailored to each individual’s unique circumstances. Patients can think of these treatments in two ways:
- Corrective treatments: These are treatments that are intended to correct an issue identified by one of the diagnostic tests an individual has undergone.
- Assisted Reproductive Technology: These treatments use novel techniques to bypass certain steps of the reproductive process.
The two categories are not mutually exclusive. Many individuals who undergo corrective treatment may also end up relying on assisted reproductive technology (ART) in order to increase their odds of having a child.
Possible Corrective Treatments
The majority of infertility cases are caused by an ovulation problem, a blockage of the fallopian tubes, or a problem with the sperm. In these cases, specific corrective treatment options might be available. The best treatment option will depend on your specific circumstances. Those options may include:
- Hormone treatments: In cases where infertility is caused (or suspected to be caused) by an imbalance or lack of hormones, a regimen of hormone treatments may be prescribed. In men, these hormones are designed to help produce more (and healthier) sperm. In women, the hormones are often intended to assist with ovulation.
- Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be required to help correct certain infertility-causing issues. Blockages in the fallopian tubes, for example, will often require surgery to correct. For men, surgery is often required when the problem is a blockage of the vas deferens.
- Fertility medications: There are also some medications that are intended to treat specific fertility issues. Whether these medications are right for your circumstances will be something you can discuss with your doctor.
Assisted Reproductive Technology
When most people think of fertility treatments, this is what they often imagine. Assisted reproductive technologies are designed to use medical techniques to assist with specific aspects of the reproductive process. The most commonly used ART treatments include:
- Intrauterine Insemination: Sometimes called “artificial insemination,” intrauterine insemination (IUI) is used in cases where natural conception has been unsuccessful but the woman has healthy and functioning fallopian tubes. During IUI, a doctor will insert the male parent’s semen through the woman’s cervix and into the uterus. This procedure is usually performed around the time of ovulation to maximize the chances of success.
- In-Vitro Fertilization: Perhaps better known by its acronym, IVF, in-vitro fertilization involves collecting eggs and sperm from both parents and fertilizing the embryo in a laboratory environment. The embryo is then allowed to grow for several days before being introduced to the uterus. The intended result is that the embryo will implant in the uterus and begin to grow just as a traditionally fertilized egg would. IVF will usually require hormone therapy in order to maximize the number of healthy eggs collected.
- GIFT/ZIFT: In cases where in-vitro fertilization has not been successful, some couples may turn to a treatment called gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) or zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT). Unlike with IVF, the collected egg and sperm are quickly placed in the fallopian tubes. This more closely resembles natural processes, but an incision is usually required, making GIFT/ZIFT a more taxing procedure.
Which ART technique is best for your reproductive needs will depend on a variety of factors, including the possible causes of a patient’s infertility. In many cases, prospective parents will try a variety of treatment plans or a combination of procedures in order to maximize success.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Infertility Treatments
The most common–and significant–benefit of fertility treatments is an improved probability of parenting a child. But there can be some drawbacks along the way. IVF treatments, in particular, have been shown to produce a statistically larger number of twins and triplets–though this isn’t necessarily a “drawback” for every family. Individual treatments will also carry with them unique side effects and possible complications that patients should discuss with their OBGYN.
Additionally, the fertility treatment process can be an emotional rollercoaster. Many patients are advised to take a long view when evaluating what successful outcomes look like in order to keep small setbacks from diminish their spirits.
Over 33% of American adults have undergone some form of fertility treatment or know someone who has. That number might not be statistically shocking, but it’s probably larger than most people assume it would be. That’s because infertility is a much more common challenge than is widely known or discussed.
But it also means that infertility treatments are also very commonly successful. In part, that’s because there are more infertility treatment options today than at any point in history. A conversation with your OBGYN can help you weigh the pros and cons of each approach, ensuring you find a treatment plan that’s right for you, your body, and your family.
An in-person discussion with your OBGYN is the best way to evaluate your optimal pathway to parenthood. You can learn more about our infertility services here. To schedule a conversation with one of our OBGYNs, contact our Wilmette or Glenview offices today.