Did you know that infertility is a disease?

Published 10:21 am Thursday, June 13, 2013

Column: Hometown Health, by Fadi Yahya

Infertility is the inability of a person to contribute to pregnancy and is largely preventable. Globally it affects around 80 million women.

Fadi Yahya

Fadi Yahya

One of the main reasons so many infertility cases go undiagnosed is people don’t understand what it is and that it is, in fact, a disease. These misunderstandings cause many infertile people to be isolated, which can lead to marital instability, anxiety, depression, loss of social status, loss of gender identity and even loss of a person’s religious or spiritual well-being.

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The World Health Organization recognizes infertility as a disease that can seriously impact a person’s life. Recently, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics published “The FIGO Fertility Tool Box” to educate on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infertility. The following is information included in that tool box.

Fertility changes in relation to age: A woman’s fertility starts declining at age 30 and is significantly affected at age 37.

On the other hand, age can increase the incidence of adverse pregnancy outcomes in both adolescent (less than 19 years old) and older women (older than 35). In men, advanced age can decrease fertility and increase the risk of birth defects. Delayed child bearing is one of the common reasons for infertility.


Sex and birth control:

Understanding sexual health is very important for well-being. Appropriate timing of intercourse allows couples to enhance fertility if desired or prevent unwanted pregnancy. It is also important to educate young people that unsafe sexual practices can reduce fertility and cause problems such as chronic pain.


Healthy lifestyle:

Lifestyle factors such as smoking, malnutrition, chronic stress and obesity can substantially reduce fertility. Overcoming these factors can prevent infertility, and more importantly, this is the best means to treat infertility in those individuals.


Sexually transmitted infections:

Numerous STIs, especially chlamydia and gonorrhea, can damage the uterus and fallopian tubes leading to infertility. Promoting awareness for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of STIs can prevent infertility and a number of other serious conditions.



The labor and delivery process, ectopic pregnancy or pregnancy outside of the uterus, spontaneous miscarriage, postpartum infections and hemorrhaging and unsafe pregnancy termination can significantly impact fertility.


Healthy family:

Providing appropriate care for newborns and children is essential for preventing harm and even childhood death. Loss of a child can affect the well-being of a family and lead to renewed interest in fertility and pregnancy. Maintaining a healthy family can decrease the interest in pregnancy and indirectly prevent infertility.

The FIGO considers infertility a largely preventable disease. The treatment and prevention of infertility is the responsibility of everyone, the general population, health care providers, insurance companies and the government.

Understanding that infertility is a disease with serious implications can help recruit financial and social support to infertile people. Education at all levels is the most important step in decreasing the prevalence and burden of infertility.

It’s important to discuss any questions or concerns about infertility with your obstetrician/gynecologist or primary health care provider.


Fadi Yahya, M.D., OB/GYN, practices at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. To schedule an appointment with him, call 379-2131.