What does subfertility mean?
We have heard the world subfertility mentioned so many times, but what does it actually mean? We turned to Dr Michalis Kyriakidis and Dr Artemis Karkanaki from Embryolab Fertility Clinic to explain.
What is the difference between subfertility and infertility?
Infertility is the inability to conceive naturally after one year of trying. It also means the likelihood of conceiving without medical intervention is unlikely. Subfertility however is a delay in conceiving, although the possibility of conceiving naturally still exists. It just means it will take longer than average to conceive.
Who does it affect?
Increasingly subfertility is becoming a serious issue facing couples of reproductive age and we are seeing more and more people seeking our help.
As technology and science have now made great strides, the majority of these couples will achieve their goal of having a family. However, sometimes the road can be rocky and questions emerge which should not go unanswered. Our experience has highlighted that being properly informed is the best way to reach your goal.
At what point should I start to think you possibly need help? When should I visit an expert?’
At least a year of trying should elapse before consulting a specialist. It is to be expected that even a couple without any reproductive problems can find it difficult in the beginning. It requires patience and dedication.
If a pregnancy hasn’t happened in the first year, it’s a good idea to seek some professional help.
We would advise visiting a specialist earlier than this if there is a known history of low fertility in one of the two partners, if the woman is experiencing menstrual disorders or if the woman is over 35. Inevitably, if there is any difficulty in conceiving, it’s important to run tests to diagnose why.
‘What triggers female subfertility?’ ‘Should I undergo tests?’ ‘Will I eventually need IVF treatment?’
Subfertility in women may be due to multiple factors with numerous conditions potentially contributing to fertility issues. The most common causes tend to be problems with the fallopian tubes or hormonal disorders, as in the case of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
A growing issue seems to be the woman’s age at the time of starting to try to conceive or even the point at which she decides to investigate her fertility health.
It’s important to mention here that tests, that are carried out to establish the cause of any subfertility, should always be undertaken with the guidance of a specialized assisted reproduction gynaecologist. This will ensure that suitable treatment is advised
For couples or individuals faced with having to go through tests or treatment, it might appear onerous and upsetting, but it is strongly advisable. The tests can only benefit their situation by receiving a diagnosis and helping to find a resolution.
I would also strongly advise that, even for couples over 35 years of age who want to leave having children until later, it really is a good idea to have fertility checks, even just to give some form of guidance on their reproductive health.
‘What does the treatment entail?’ ‘It sounds difficult? Is it safe?’ ‘Is it painful?’ ‘How will it impact on my daily life?’ ‘Following treatment, what must I take care of and what should I avoid?’
Assisted reproduction is a treatment which on average lasts between 12 and 18 days. It is performed by giving hormone injections with the goal of creating embryos in the lab and then transferring to the uterus.
Extensive research has been undertaken over the last 40 years on the safety of IVF, and to date no convincing evidence exists of any long-term negative impacts on the health of the woman.
Also, daily life is not affected during the time of treatment. Monitoring and injections can be fitted into a woman’s daily routine. It is advisable to avoid intensive physical exercise and fatigue as well as a poor or unstable diet during this period. It is also important to be aware that after the treatment has ended, the body returns to its initial condition, and any weight gain resulting from fluid retention disappears with the next period.
‘Am I at high risk because I became pregnant after IVF treatment?’
Many women who struggle to get pregnant go on to have problem-free pregnancies.
IVF does not mean that the woman automatically has a high-risk pregnancy, and indeed most women have a normal pregnancy. Only in cases when certain medical indications exist, is the monitoring of the woman by a specialized obstetrician necessary.
‘And what if the woman’s own eggs cannot produce a pregnancy?’
It’s true that sometimes a woman’s own eggs are not viable, but the uterus is entirely healthy and capable of supporting a pregnancy. In these cases, egg donation can be an option.
There is no question that the problem of subfertility and low birth rate will increase over the coming years, as society moves on
Difficulties that couples face trying to conceive can be heartbreaking and they can struggle with their options. Sometimes the pressure prevents couples from continuing with their goal of having a family.
The answers come only through being properly informed about contemporary IVF treatment. That which seemed unachievable 40 years ago is now possible. Embryolab’s long experience now permits us to help couples in their efforts to change their lives in creating families.
Thank you so much to Dr Michalis Kyriakidis MD, M.Sc., Assisted Reproduction Gynaecologist and Dr Artemis Karkanaki MD, MSc, PGCert, PhD, Assisted Reproduction Gynaecologist