November 26, 2014
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Fertility

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Infertility: More common than you may think

How common is infertility?

How common is  infertility?

You may not personally know any couples that are having difficulty conceiving. This is probably because even though these couples are experiencing fertility issues, they want to keep their struggle private. But you often hear of celebrity couples struggling with fertility issues. So how common is infertility?

Fertility problems and infertility may be more common than you think. A recent study shows that 11.5% to 15.7% of Canadian couples have infertility. That's almost one in six couples. So you see, chances are that you do personally know someone affected by infertility.

What is infertility?

In general, the definition of infertility is being unable to conceive after a year of regular, unprotected intercourse if a woman is under age 35, or 6 months if a woman is 35 or older.

But there have often been variations in how infertility is defined when researchers look at how many couples are affected. Infertility is generally defined as when a woman of reproductive age is unable to become pregnant while not using any form of birth control. Some studies will look only at lack of birth control while others will also consider whether the couple has regular, unprotected intercourse. Studies will often look at current infertility (i.e., if you are having difficulty conceiving now) versus lifetime infertility (i.e., if you have ever had difficulty conceiving).

How has the infertility rate changed over the years?

No matter how it's defined, though, it seems that the overall number of people facing fertility problems has increased over the years. In 1984, the estimated percentage of couples with fertility problems was 5.4%. In 1992, this number increased to 8.5%. And today, the estimated prevalence (total number of couples with infertility) is up to 15.7%.

Among couples with a female partner aged 40 to 44 years old, the infertility rate is 14.3% to 20.7%. Almost 30 years ago, in 1984, that number was only 4.6%.

And although it is expected that as a woman's age increases the rate of infertility increases, the trend of rising infertility rates is not exclusive to older women. In 1984, the infertility rate of couples with a female partner aged 18 to 29 years was 4.9%. Now, the infertility rate in this age group is 7% to 13.7%.

Why have infertility rates increased? In part, it is related to the trend for women to have children later in life (when they are less fertile). There are many factors that have contributed to this trend including getting married at a later age (which delays when women attempt to have children and a woman's fertility decreases as she gets older, especially her mid-30s), readily available birth control (which allows women to delay pregnancy until they are ready, which often means when they are older), and more women in the work force. However, infertility has also increased in younger age groups. Possible explanations for a general decrease in fertility include the increasing rate of obesity and sexually transmitted infections, both of which can harm fertility. Other fertility risk factors may also contribute to how common infertility is. Read more about some of the common reasons for infertility.

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