Infertility: the low-down!

If you’re reading this the chances are you’re very familiar with the word ‘infertility’. I’d hazard a guess that for some of you it’s a word that takes up a LOT of space inside your head and indeed inside your heart. It can be a painful word, a frightening word, even a confusing word. And, what exactly does it mean? Does it mean I’ll never get pregnant? Does it mean I’m always going to be infertile? Is it a disease? (Note: yes it is!). For me the word infertility meant many different things, but mainly it meant that I went into hiding. I hid from my friends; I hid from my family and most of all I hid from myself. I filled the void with food and enjoyed watching my tummy expand. I cried, and wondered why someone would say “it suits you” when watching me holding my four month old niece, knowing that I’d been married long enough to have started my own family by now, twice over. And I hoped… I hoped that we’d just gotten our timings wrong, and that of course I wasn’t infertile. Because I couldn’t be, could I? Yes – I could be, and indeed I was. Infertile. What a word. What a sentence to be handed. The girl who used to wax lyrical about wanting nine children might now have none. And how ironic that my working life up to that point was as a health practitioner who helped women and couples get pregnant. You couldn’t make it up. On that note, you will never read made up or misleading information in one of our blogs. The Fertility Health Clinic is an evidence and science based clinic & practitioner education forum, which means all our Fertility Health personalised client programmes, articles, and practitioner education programmes are based on the best and most up to date research available. So! Let’s jump right in. As this is the very first Fertility Health Clinic blog I’m going launch straight in by highlighting to you some of the basic statistics and facts behind this disorder. But don’t worry, if you are interested in learning more about my own fertility journey, I’ll be writing many a (cathartic) blog relating to that, and I hope you gain some comfort from them. Infertility – the low-down! The World Health Organisation (WHO) puts the prevalence of infertility across the developed world at a figure of 25%. This corresponds to the statistics referred to by the British Fertility Society who state that one quarter of couples will experience infertility at some stage during their reproductive lives. Indeed, in the UK alone, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority reported that 48,491 women received fertility treatments in 2012. The numbers in Ireland are more conservative as it’s indicated that we have the highest fertility rates in Europe (go us!). With the population of Ireland being 4,500,000+ and a prevalence of infertility being one in six the central statistics office (CSO) estimated that in 2012 there were 300,000+ Irish residents affected by infertility. What is infertility? The standard clinical definition of infertility is “a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.” (www.who.int/entity/reproductivehealth). For women over the age of 35 this is generally shortened to 6 months. Note: A clinical pregnancy is confirmed by high levels of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) and ultrasound. What many people don’t realise is that there are two classes of infertility – primary infertility and secondary infertility. Primary fertility is when a pregnancy has never been achieved and secondary infertility is when a pregnancy can’t be achieved or carried to term although the woman has previously given birth. Those suffering secondary fertility will often tell me in clinic that they feel guilty for wanting another child when some couples or women have none. This guilt is misplaced because one person’s fertility journey is no less painful than another’s. Approximately 35% of infertility is male factor infertility, with another 35% relating to female factor infertility and approximately 20% is combined. A further 10% is classed as unexplained or ‘idiopathic infertility’. The Fertility Health Clinic thrives on explaining the unexplained. We get huge professional satisfaction in unpicking the clues our idiopathic infertility clients present to us and putting together a functional medicine mechanism hypothesis indicating where we feel reproductive function has gone wrong for them. For females two gynaecological disorders said to influence fertility the most are endometriosis and PCOS and again, the Fertility Health Clinic delivers specific programmes for these disorders. A great number of other factors are also associated with the aetiology of infertility such as: premature ovarian dysfunction, tubal blockage, adenomyosis, low sperm count, abnormal sperm and low sperm motility. Sometimes however, as stated above the reasons for dysfunction are often unclear. Note: Premature Ovarian Failure (POF) is the cessation of ovarian function before the age of 40 years. POF is reported to be associated with autoimmune diseases in 20-30% of cases. Other causes are genetic or environmental such are viral infections or toxins but no CLEAR mechanism is known. 60-80% of cases are said to be idiopathic. I hope the above gives you a starting point regarding understanding infertility. Keep following for more blogs and more insights into the world of reproductive health. We are on this journey with you.

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