Secondary Infertility Affects at Least Six Million People in U.S.
by Nancy Wurtzel
Conceiving a child and having a successful birth without medical intervention is no guarantee that a woman can expand her family in the future without experiencing any challenges. It’s estimated more than 6 million people in the U.S. want to add a biological child to their family, but can’t.
This inability to conceive or carry a baby to term, after at least one successful pregnancy without any assisted reproductive technologies (ART) or fertility medications, is considered secondary infertility. The National Center for Health Statistics estimates there are upwards of three million women of childbearing age in the U.S. who are experiencing this medical condition.
| Affecting one in eight couples, secondary infertility is just as common as primary infertility.
These couples make up at least a third or possibly as many as half of the patients undergoing fertility treatment.
“Age of the woman is the single most predictive factor regarding fertility,” said Dr. Rinku Mehta of the Frisco Institute for Reproductive Medicine. “I would advise women to not wait too long between trying to have children if they were already over age 35 when they conceived the first time.”
| While growing older is a significant cause of secondary infertility, it is not the only factor.
Since the last successful pregnancy, one or both of the partners may have developed health problems that affect pregnancy.
The male, for example, may have a thyroid condition that is inhibiting sperm performance or an undiagnosed general decline in the concentration or motility of his sperm. For her part, the female may have an underlying and undetected condition which has worsened over time, such as endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), an endocrine disorder that affects a woman’s menstrual cycle and is the leading cause of infertility in women.
Fertility can also be impacted by a significant weight gain in either or both partners. Even higher stress levels can affect ovulation as well as sperm count.
Other health conditions or life changes that may be causing secondary infertility include the following:
- Irregular ovulation
- Recurrent miscarriage
- Hostile cervical mucus
- Blocked fallopian tubes
- Obesity in either or both partners
- Undetected problems with previous pregnancy and delivery
- Other reasons for male infertility
- Previously fertile person trying to conceive with a new partner
If all medical conditions are eventually ruled out, then the fertility is deemed “unexplained,” which accounts for about 20 percent of all secondary infertility cases.
Many couples are caught off guard, confused, or even shocked when they receive a diagnosis of secondary infertility. After all, getting pregnant and delivering a child had been natural and easy the first time, so the built-in belief is that future pregnancies will be the same.