Having Trouble Getting Pregnant? This May Be Why
Among couples who are having trouble getting pregnant, many are told the reason is unknown, which means doctors are unable to identify anything wrong in either the man or woman. However, investigators at Queen's University in Belfast have discovered the reason why 80 percent of couples in this latter category are having difficulty getting pregnant.
Unexplained infertility is now explained
For many of the estimated one million couples around the world who are having trouble getting pregnant, doctors are able to identify a cause. According to Resolve, the national infertility organization, about 30 percent of infertility is associated with male factors (e.g., low sperm count, slow moving sperm), 30 percent can be attributed to female factors (e.g., blocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis), and 10 percent is caused by problems with both partners.
That leaves about 20 percent of cases of unexplained infertility. While all couples who are struggling with infertility may experience emotional turmoil and spend a great deal of time and money trying to discover why they are infertile, the overall situation can be especially trying for those who cannot find an answer.
The Queen's researchers believe they have uncovered the cause of unexplained infertility for about 80 percent of couples who are struggling with this problem, and it's called high sperm DNA damage. This findings could not only help ease the emotional burden these couples feel, but also save them time and money and lead them to more effective treatment options.
According to Professor Sheena Lewis from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's, many couples who have been given a diagnosis of unexplained infertility have invested "time and money in fertility treatments like intrauterine insemination (IUI) unlikely to be successful."
The discovery of high sperm DNA damage, however, opens the door to other treatment opportunities, explained Lewis, that can be "tailored" for these couples and "direct them straight to the best treatment and increase their chances of having a baby."
To arrive at their conclusions, the researchers gathered evidence from more than 500 couples who were tested using a unique male fertility test called SpermComet™, which was developed by individuals at Queen's. The test measures the amount of damaged DNA in individual sperm, which in turn provides physicians and patients with highly reliable information about the causes and severity of infertility.
In addition, the investigators also discovered that the chances of couples conceiving after IVF (in vitro fertilization) is associated with the amount of damaged DNA a man's sperm contains. Although a damage rate of less than 15 percent is considered to be normal, the chances of getting pregnant are reduced when more than 25 percent of sperm are damaged, even if the couple are using fertility treatments.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 10 percent of women (ages 15-44) in the United States have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant. Infertility can be treated with medications (e.g., clomiphene citrate, metformin), surgery, artificial insemination, or in vitro fertilization (assisted reproductive technology).
Lewis noted that their findings "will give many fresh hope of having a family." The discovery of the role of damaged DNA in individual sperm in unexplained infertility is a breakthrough for couples who are having trouble getting pregnant.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Queen's University Belfast