AskDefine | Define infertile

Dictionary Definition

infertile adj : incapable of reproducing; "an infertile couple" [syn: sterile, unfertile] [ant: fertile]

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in- + fertile


  1. not fertile


not fertile


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  1. infertile


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Extensive Definition

Infertility primarily refers to the biological inability of a man or a woman to contribute to conception. Infertility may also refer to the state of a woman who is unable to carry a pregnancy to full term. There are many biological causes of infertility, some which may be bypassed with medical intervention.
Women who are fertile experience a natural period of fertility before and during ovulation, and they are naturally infertile during the rest of the menstrual cycle. Fertility awareness methods are used to discern when these changes occur by tracking changes in cervical mucus or basal body temperature.


There are strict definitions of infertility used by many doctors. However, there are also similar terms, e.g. subfertility for a more benign condition and fecundity for the natural improbability to conceive.


Reproductive endocrinologists, the doctors specializing in infertility, consider a couple to be infertile if:
  • the couple has not conceived after 12 months of contraceptive-free intercourse if the female is under the age of 34
  • the couple has not conceived after 6 months of contraceptive-free intercourse if the female is over the age of 35 (declining egg quality of females over the age of 35 account for the age-based discrepancy as when to seek medical intervention)
  • the female is incapable of carrying a pregnancy to term.


A couple that has tried unsuccessfully to have a child for a year or more is said to be subfertile. The couple's fecundability rate is approximately 3-5%. Many of its causes are the same as those of infertility. Such causes could be endometriosis, or polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Primary vs. secondary infertility

Couples with primary infertility have never been able to conceive, while, on the other hand, secondary infertility is difficulty conceiving after already having conceived and carried a normal pregnancy. Technically, secondary infertility is not present if there has been a change of partners.
Some women are infertile because their ovaries do not mature and release eggs. In this case synthetic FSH by injection or Clomid (Clomiphene citrate) via a pill can be given to stimulate follicles to mature in the ovaries.


  • Generally, worldwide it is estimated that one in seven couples have problems conceiving, with the incidence similar in most countries independent of the level of the country's development.
  • Fertility problems affect one in seven couples in the UK. Most couples (about 84 out of every 100) who have regular sexual intercourse (that is, every 2 to 3 days) and who do not use contraception will get pregnant within a year. About 92 out of 100 couples who are trying to get pregnant do so within 2 years.
  • Women become less fertile as they get older. For women aged 35, about 94 out of every 100 who have regular unprotected sexual intercourse will get pregnant after 3 years of trying. For women aged 38, however, only 77 out of every 100 will do so. The effect of age upon men’s fertility is less clear.
  • In people going forward for IVF in the UK, roughly half of fertility prolems with a diagnosed cause are due to problems with the man, and about half due to problems with the woman. However about one in five cases of infertility have no clear diagnosed cause
  • In Britain, male factor infertility accounts for 25% of infertile couples, whilst 25% remain unexplained. 50% are female causes with 25% being due to anovulation and 25% tubal problems/other
  • In Sweden, approximately 10% of couples are infertile. In approximately one third of these cases the man is the factor, in one third the woman is the factor and in the remaining third the infertility is a product of factors on both parts.


This section deals with unintentional causes of sterility. For more information about surgical techniques for preventing procreation, see sterilization.

Causes in either sex

For a woman to conceive, certain things have to happen: intercourse must take place around the time when an egg is released from your ovary; the systems that produce eggs and sperm have to be working at optimum levels; and your hormones must be balanced.
There are several possible reasons why it may not be happening naturally. In a third of cases, it can be because of male problems such as low sperm count.
Problems affecting women include endometriosis or damage to the fallopian tubes (which may have been ccaused by infections such as chlamydia).
Other factors that can affect your chances of conceiving including being over- or underweight or your age - female fertility declines sharply after the age of 35. Sometimes it can be a combination of factors, and sometimes a clear cause is never established.
Factors that can cause male as well as female infertility are:

Combined infertility

In some cases, both the man and woman may be infertile or sub-fertile, and the couple's infertility arises from the combination of these conditions. In other cases, the cause is suspected to be immunological or genetic; it may be that each partner is independently fertile but the couple cannot conceive together without assistance.

Unexplained infertility

In about 15% of cases the infertility investigation will show no abnormalities. In these cases abnormalities are likely to be present but not detected by current methods. Possible problems could be that the egg is not released at the optimum time for fertilization, that it may not enter the fallopian tube, sperm may not be able to reach the egg, fertilization may fail to occur, transport of the zygote may be disturbed, or implantation fails. It is increasingly recognized that egg quality is of critical importance and women of advanced maternal age have eggs of reduced capacity for normal and successful fertilization.


If both partners are both young and healthy, and have been trying for a baby for 18 months to two years without success, a visit to the family doctor could help to highlight potential medical problems earlier rather than later. He or she may also be able to suggest lifestyle changes you can make to increase your chances of conceiving.
Women over the age of 35 should see their family doctor after six months as fertility tests can take some time to complete, and your age may affect the treatment options that are open in that case.
A family doctor will take amedical history and give you a physical examination. They can also carry out some basic tests on on both partners to see if there is an identifiable reason for having achieved a pregnancy yet. If necessary, they can refer you to a fertility clinic or your local hospital for more specialist tests. The results of these tests will help determine which is the best fertility treatment for you and your partner.


Treatment of infertility usually starts with medication. In vitro fertilization (IVF) in addition to various forms and developments of it (ICSI, ZIFT, GIFT) is another solution. They all include that the fertilization takes place outside the body. On the other hand, an insemination can make a fertilization inside the body. Other techniques are e.g. tuboplasty, assisted hatching and PGD.


There are several ethical issues associated with infertility and its treatment.
  • High-cost treatments are out of financial reach for some couples.
  • Debate over whether health insurance companies should be forced to cover infertility treatment.
  • Allocation of medical resources that could be used elsewhere
  • The legal status of embryos fertilized in vitro and not transferred in vivo. (See also Beginning of pregnancy controversy).
  • Anti-abortion opposition to the destruction of embryos not transferred in vivo.
  • IVF and other fertility treatments have resulted in an increase in multiple births, provoking ethical analysis because of the link between multiple pregnancies, premature birth, and a host of health problems.
  • Religious leaders' opinions on fertility treatments.
  • Infertility caused by DNA defects on the Y chromosome is passed on from father to son. If natural selection is the primary error correction mechanism that prevents random mutations on the Y chromosome, then fertility treatments for men with abnormal sperm (in particular ICSI) only defer the underlying problem to the next male generation.
Many countries have special frameworks for dealing with the ethical and social issues around fertility treatment.
  • One of the best known is the HFEA - The UK's regulator for fertility treatment and embryo research. This was set up on 1 August 1991 following a detailed commission of enquiry led by Mary Warnock in the 1980s
  • A similar model to the HFEA has been adoped by the rest of the countries in the European Union. Each country has its own body or bodies responsible for the inspection and licencing of fertility treatment under the EU Tissues and Cells directive
  • Regulatory bodies are also found in Canada and in the state of Victoria in Australia

Psychological impact

Infertility may have profound psychological effects. Partners may become more anxious to conceive, ironically increasing sexual dysfunction. Marital discord often develops in infertile couples, especially when they are under pressure to make medical decisions. Women trying to conceive often have clinical depression rates similar to women who have heart disease or cancer. Even couples undertaking IVF face considerable stress.

Social impact

In many cultures, inability to conceive bears a stigma. In closed social groups, a degree of rejection (or a sense of being rejected by the couple) may cause considerable anxiety and disappointment. Some respond by actively avoiding the issue altogether; middle-class men are the most likely to respond in this way .
There are legal ramifications as well. Infertility has begun to gain more exposure to legal domains. An estimated 4 million workers in the U.S. used the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 2004 to care for a child, parent or spouse, or because of their own personal illness. Many treatments for infertility, including diagnostic tests, surgery and therapy for depression, can qualify one for FMLA leave.
infertile in Arabic: عقم
infertile in Bulgarian: Безплодие при човека
infertile in German: Unfruchtbarkeit
infertile in Spanish: Infertilidad
infertile in French: Stérilité humaine
infertile in Armenian: Ամլություն
infertile in Indonesian: Mandul
infertile in Icelandic: Ófrjósemi
infertile in Italian: Sterilità
infertile in Hebrew: עקרות
infertile in Lithuanian: Nevaisingumas
infertile in Malay (macrolanguage): Kemandulan
infertile in Dutch: Onvruchtbaarheid
infertile in Japanese: 不妊
infertile in Norwegian Nynorsk: Ufrivillig barnløyse
infertile in Polish: Niepłodność
infertile in Portuguese: Infertilidade
infertile in Russian: Бесплодие
infertile in Simple English: Infertility
infertile in Finnish: Hedelmättömyys
infertile in Swedish: Infertilitet
infertile in Vietnamese: Vô sinh
infertile in Turkish: Kısırlık
infertile in Ukrainian: Безплідність
infertile in Urdu: عُقم
infertile in Chinese: 不孕

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