The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines infertility as the inability for women between the ages of 15 – 44 to get pregnant after at least one year of actively trying to conceive, and for men, the inability to impregnate a woman. The NIH also states that women who can become pregnant but who cannot carry a pregnancy to term (birth) may also be considered infertile. The cause of infertility can rest with a woman or a man. Infertility has been recognized by the medical community as a disease. It has no single cause because successful pregnancy is a chain of events (NIH). Infertility is a common problem, in 2009, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 10 % of women (6.1 million) in the United States ages 15–44 years have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, infertility affects men and women equally.
Black Women and Infertility
Many people are usually taken aback to hear that in the U.S. black women suffer a much higher rate of infertility than white women.Research from 2006 indicates that incidence of infertility is higher in black women than in Caucasian women, and that infertility among black women has steadily been increasing, whereas it is decreasing among white women (Chandra, and Stephen 2006).
What Causes Infertility in Women?
Some cases of female infertility are caused by problems with ovulation. Without ovulation, there are no eggs to be fertilized. Some signs that a woman is not ovulating normally include irregular or absent menstrual periods.
Ovulation problems are often caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormone imbalance problem which can interfere with normal ovulation. PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility. Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) is another cause of ovulation problems. POI occurs when a woman's ovaries stop working normally before she is 40. POI is not the same as early menopause.
Other causes of infertility problems in women include:
- Blocked fallopian tubes due to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Endometriosis, or surgery for an ectopic pregnancy
- Uterine fibroids
- Polycystic Ovary syndrome (PCOS)
New reproductive technologies offer choices and hope to infertile individuals or couples who desire to become parents.
What are the different types of assisted reproductive technology (ART)?
Common methods of ART include:
- In vitro fertilization (IVF) means fertilization outside of the body. IVF is the most effective ART. It is often used when a woman's fallopian tubes are blocked or when a man produces too few sperm. Doctors treat the woman with a drug that causes the ovaries to produce multiple eggs. Once mature, the eggs are removed from the woman. They are put in a dish in the lab along with the man's sperm for fertilization. After 3 to 5 days, healthy embryos are implanted in the woman's uterus.
- Zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT) or Tubal Embryo Transfer is similar to IVF. Fertilization occurs in the laboratory. Then the very young embryo is transferred to the fallopian tube instead of the uterus.
- Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) involves transferring eggs and sperm into the woman's fallopian tube. So fertilization occurs in the woman's body. Few practices offer GIFT as an option.
- Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is often used for couples in which there are serious problems with the sperm. Sometimes it is also used for older couples or for those with failed IVF attempts. In ICSI, a single sperm is injected into a mature egg. Then the embryo is transferred to the uterus or fallopian tube.
For more information on infertility, please contact the following resources:
InterNational Council on Infertility Information Dissemination, Inc.
RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association
Phone: 703-556-7172. www.resolve.org
The Families of Color Initiative
Fertility Partnership: African Americans and Infertility http://www.fertilitypartnership.com/View-by-tag/African-American+infertility/
References and other Resources
National Institutes of Health (NIH):
Center for Disease Control and prevention:
Medical Disclaimer: The information provided to our readers regarding these diseases is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. We strongly encourage our readers to use this information only as a preliminary resource, and we disclaim any liability for the decisions made by anyone based on this information.