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INFERTILITY

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DEFINITION AND PREVALENCE

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Infertility has traditionally been defined as the inability to conceive after 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse. In women who ultimately conceived, pregnancy occurred in ~50% within 3 months, 75–82% within 6 months, and 85–92% within 12 months. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers infertility as a disability (an impairment of function) and thus access to health care falls under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. Thirty-four million women, predominantly from developing countries, have infertility resulting from maternal sepsis and unsafe abortion. In populations <60 years old, infertility is ranked the fifth highest serious global disability. In the United States, the rate of infertility in married women age 15–44 is 6% based on the National Survey of Family Growth, although prospective studies suggest that it may be as high as 12–15%. The infertility rate has remained relatively stable over the past 30 years in most countries. However, the proportion of couples without children has risen, reflecting both higher numbers of couples in childbearing years and a trend to delay childbearing. This trend has important implications because of an age-related decrease in fecundability: the incidence of primary infertility increases from ~8% between the ages of 18 and 38 to 25% and 30% between the ages of 35 and 39 and 40 and 44, respectively. It is estimated that 14% of couples in the United States have received medical assistance for infertility; of these, two-thirds received counseling, ~12% underwent infertility testing of the female and/or male partner, and 17% received drugs to induce ovulation.

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CAUSES OF INFERTILITY

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The spectrum of infertility ranges from reduced conception rates or the need for medical intervention to irreversible causes of infertility. Infertility can be attributed primarily to male factors in 25% of couples and female factors in 58% of couples and is unexplained in about 17% of couples (Fig. 14-1). Not uncommonly, both male and female factors contribute to infertility. Decreases in the ability to conceive as a function of age in women has led to recommendations that women >34 years old who are not at increased risk of infertility seek attention after 6 months, rather than 12 months as suggested for younger women, and receive an expedited work-up and approach to treatment.

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FIGURE 14-1

Causes of infertility. FSH, follicle-stimulating hormone; LH, luteinizing hormone.

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APPROACH TO PATIENT

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APPROACH TO THE PATIENT: Infertility INITIAL EVALUATION

In all couples presenting with infertility, the initial evaluation includes discussion of the appropriate timing of intercourse and discussion of modifiable risk factors such as smoking, alcohol, caffeine, and obesity. The range of required investigations should be reviewed as well as a brief description of infertility treatment options, including adoption. Initial investigations are focused on determining whether the primary cause of the infertility is male, female, or both. These investigations include a semen analysis in the male, confirmation of ovulation in the female, and, in the majority of situations, documentation of tubal patency in the female. In some cases, after an extensive workup excluding all male and female factors, a specific cause cannot be identified, and infertility may ultimately be classified as unexplained.

PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF INFERTILITY

Infertility is invariably associated with psychological stress related not only to the diagnostic and therapeutic procedures themselves but also to repeated cycles of hope and loss associated with each new procedure or cycle of treatment that does not result in the birth of a child. These feelings are often combined with a sense of isolation from friends and family. Counseling and stress-management techniques should be introduced early in the evaluation of infertility. Importantly, infertility and its treatment do not appear to be associated with long-term psychological sequelae.

FEMALE CAUSES

Abnormalities in menstrual function constitute the most common cause of female infertility. These ...

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