What’s the difference between sterility and infertility? Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but they actually describe two different conditions—each with their own treatment options.
What is Sterility?
One common definition of sterility is the inability to create offspring (children) as a result of a procedure—such as tubal ligation, hysterectomy, or vasectomy. Tubal ligation, also known as “getting your tubes tied,” is a procedure in which a woman’s fallopian tubes are blocked or partially removed, preventing the chance for sperm and eggs to meet. A vasectomy is similar to a tubal ligation, but for males—the tube that allows sperm to travel out from the testicle is partially removed. Some women also experience sterility as a result of a hysterectomy, or removal of the uterus.
What is Infertility?
At its most basic level, infertility is trying to conceive with appropriate, timed, and unprotected intercourse for twelve months without success. The duration of time is shortened to six months if the woman is 35 years or older. Other reasons the duration may be shortened are anovulation (when the female partner is not ovulating), male factor (low sperm count or motility), a history of abnormal fallopian tubes or uterus, or the need for donor sperm. Unlike sterility, infertility is not always the direct result of a medical condition or procedure.
In certain circumstances, infertility and sterility are linked or co-exist but they are not necessarily the same. For example, a woman that has a tubal ligation or hysterectomy is considered sterile and therefore, infertile. In contrast, a woman may not have infertility issues—but if her male partner is sterile, the couple would suffer from infertility.
Primary infertility refers to couples who have not become pregnant after at least 1 year having sex without using birth control methods.
Secondary infertility refers to couples who have been able to get pregnant at least once, but now are unable.
Testing for Infertility – What to Expect
It’s important to seek out medical professionals, such as ORM Fertility, to guide you through the process of evaluating and discussing your sterility or infertility. The initial evaluation steps include a complete medical history and fertility testing to give you a clearer picture of potential treatment options. Your confidential medical history will include your gynecological history (such as menstrual cycle duration), frequency of intercourse, surgical history, and current medications.
Female Fertility Testing
One way to better understand fertility testing is to understand what’s required for a successful pregnancy. A woman needs to have an ovary, containing healthy eggs, and the ovary has to release (ovulate) an egg. The egg is obtained by the fallopian tube where it unites with a sperm for fertilization. The fertilized egg then travels through the fallopian tube and enters the uterus, where it settles into the uterine lining for implantation.
When it comes to fertility testing, your doctor will want to know if you are regularly ovulating, and how many eggs remain in your ovaries. Ovulation can be determined by regular menstrual cycles, ovulation predictor kits, basal body temperature charting, or a luteal progesterone blood test. Ovarian reserve (how many eggs remain in the ovaries) is best determined by two blood tests and an ultrasound. The blood test looks at your levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and anti-mullerian hormone (AMH). Then, an ultrasound is used to count the number of small follicles (antral follicle count) in your ovaries. This helps your doctor determine your best options for success.
Your doctor will also want to know more about the health of your fallopian tubes, uterus, and pelvis. One common method is called a hysterosalpingogram (HSG). This x-ray procedure uses a contrast dye to fill the uterine cavity and fallopian tubes, and then spill out into the pelvis.
Male Fertility Testing
Male factor infertility may be the cause in 30-40% of all infertility cases- it’s not always the female partner. Therefore, your doctor will also want to evaluate the male partner during your infertility consultation. The best way to test the sperm is through a semen analysis—which looks at the concentration of the sperm along with the percentage of sperm that are motile and appear normal.
Moving Past Infertility
Infertility can be addressed in numerous ways—and the specialists at ORM Fertility have some of the highest IVF birth rates in the nation. We understand that every patient is different, and ORM Fertility will tailor your treatment options to suit your best-case scenario for having a child. You can find out more about fertility testing at one of our free informational seminars, where doctors from ORM Fertility will answer all of your questions and discuss the highly successful treatments now available. We think you’ll find that the personalized, thoughtful care we provide our families is what sets ORM apart.
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