Facts about infertility

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10-15% of all couples are affected by infertility, defined as failure to conceive after at least a year of trying. Following examination and treatment, however, around two-thirds of these couples go on to have children.

Causes of infertility

In men

  • Low sperm quality, e.g. due to a hereditary disorder, infection or malformation
  • Blocked sperm ducts, due to rupture or prostate surgery
  • Impotence, e.g. due to diabetes
  • Antibodies to own sperm
  • Hormone deficiency, e.g. due to brain tumour

In women

  • Hormone disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Turner syndrome (genetic disorder where one X-chromosome is wholly or partially missing)
  • Endometriosis
  • Being extremely overweight or underweight
  • Damaged Fallopian tubes
  • Early menopause
  • Uterine fibroids

In both men and women

  • Cancer in the reproductive organs
  • Damage to ovarian or testicular tissue due to chemotherapy
  • Chromosome abnormalities and inherited genetic disorders
  • Stress
  • Age

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

The most common cause of ovulation problems is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which affects 5-10% of all women of childbearing age. PCOS has hereditary origins and can lead to increased production of the male sex hormone testosterone and problems with insulin and blood sugar balance.

The disease results in numerous small cysts - immature follicles - in the ovaries, failure to ovulate and irregular periods. PCOS is treated through diet, exercise, weight loss and contraceptive pills. If a woman with PCOS wishes to conceive, medication and follicle-stimulating hormone can be used to stimulate the maturation of follicles in the ovaries and induce ovulation.


- a cause of pain and fertility problems

Another common cause of infertility is the chronic disorder endometriosis, where the lining of the womb grows outside the womb itself, generally in the abdominal cavity. It often leads to blockages in the Fallopian tubes and can affect egg quality. It can also cause severe pain during menstruation and intercourse. 10% of all women suffer from endometriosis to some degree.

Sources: Nobel.org, "Vänta med barn" by Ulla Waldenström (Karolinska Institutet University Press), Vårdguiden.

Text: Helena Mayer, Published in Medicinsk Vetenskap (Medical Science) no 4, 2010

Cell and Molecular BiologyGynaecologyObstetricsReproductive Medicine