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How does subfertility differ from infertility?

On Behalf of | May 26, 2023 | Assisted Reproduction

Most of us have heard about infertility, especially Minnesotans who have experienced challenges in trying to get pregnant. While not all causes of infertility are known, many pursue assisted reproductive technologies (ART), such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), when not being able to conceive for a year or more.

Subfertility is a lesser-known condition although many assume it’s basically the same as being infertile. While there are similarities between the two conditions, fertility experts say those experiencing subfertility can often get pregnant naturally, but it just takes longer.

Causes of subfertility

Much like infertility, many of the reasons for subfertility are unknown. But ART clinicians outline some of the risk factors, including:

  • Lifestyle: Smoking tobacco or marijuana, vaping, drinking alcohol, high caffeine intake, excessive weight, high-intensity exercise and low-quality diets.
  • Chronic medical conditions: Diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, thyroid issues and pituitary and adrenal gland disorders.
  • Egg quality and quantity: Both typically drop rapidly after women enter their mid-30s. Age is a critical factor in being able to conceive.
  • Ovulation dysfunction: Conditions that affect ovulation include premature menopause, reduced egg reserve and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
  • Uterine or fallopian tube damage: Endometriosis, sexually transmitted infections, pelvic inflammatory disease and previous surgeries can cause changes within the fallopian tubes.

Experts say even having too much sex or having sex at the wrong times can affect fertility.

When to seek medical advice

Assisted reproduction specialists say if you are under 35 and have tried unsuccessfully for over a year to get pregnant, it’s advisable to talk to a fertility doctor. That’s also true if you’re between 35 and 40 and have been trying for six months. For those over 40, they say don’t wait to talk to a doctor.

Clinicians have many common tests to try to pinpoint the cause. Treatment for subfertility may focus on lifestyle changes, while you may be urged to consider IVF or other ART options for infertility. If you are diagnosed with having inadequate sperm or eggs or a uterine condition that prevents you from becoming pregnant, you may eventually need the help of an egg or sperm donor or a gestational surrogate to carry the pregnancy.  If you do move into reproductive options that involve third parties, that is when you should immediately also consult with an experienced ART attorney to discuss the potentially complex legal issues related to parentage. Since each case is different, the most effective treatment plan may involve several alternatives.