Couples are said to be infertile, when one full year of frequent unprotected sexual intercourse produces no conception.
In the United States alone, about fifteen percent of couples within reproductive age have infertility. Most of the time, these couples are actually normal and would conceive given more time. In others, there are underlying causes which need medical attention to be resolved.
The cause may be found in either of the couple. In the female, among other things, abnormal ova may be ovulated and in the male, abnormal sperms may be ejaculated.
There could be an obstruction in the genital tract of either of the couples which may hinder the sperm and the ova from meeting and subsequently fertilizing.
Some of the available methods employed in circumventing these challenges include:
- The induction of ovulation using hormones and/or hormone-like substances; in vitro fertilization, where a special needle is passed through the vagina to the ovaries and ova harvested. This is then mixed with sperm in a laboratory dish to achieve fertilization and the embryo returned to the fallopian tube, after initial stages of cell division has taken place in the dish;
- Intracytoplasmic sperm injection, where the sperm is injected directly into the cytoplasm of the ovum using a microscopically tiny pipette; and many other new methods.
However, they come with certain levels of risks and dangers. These dangers include the following:
Assisted reproductive techniques come with a higher risk of miscarriages compared to normal conceptions. But it is nearly impossible to know the exact rate of these miscarriages because most of them occur very close to the time the woman would be expecting her next menses and so the miscarriage takes place without the woman’s awareness.
Thus, out of the estimated thirty percent of miscarriage that occurs of all pregnancies, only half is recognized. Some medications, like clomiphene, used to induce ovulation also tend to increase the rate of miscarriage too.
Ectopic pregnancy is the implantation of embryo outside the uterine cavity. There are suspicions that conceptions achieved through assisted reproductive techniques are associated with ectopic pregnancies. Ectopic pregnancies can cause bleeding that can be life-threatening.
Abnormalities in the number of chromosomes are more common in pregnancies achieved through assisted reproductive techniques compared to naturally-conceived pregnancies.
However, the number of births with these abnormalities is less possibly because nature has a way of filtering out such pregnancies through spontaneous abortions.
Multiple Gestation (Births)
Hormones and other such substances used to induce ovulation in assisted reproductive techniques induce multiple ovulations which result to twins, triplets, quadruplets and more.
The normal population has a twinning rate of around one percent but in pregnancies achieved through assisted reproductive techniques, the rate is as high as between eight and twenty five percent.
Assisted reproductive techniques, particularly intracytoplasmic injection, have been associated with interfering with normal methylation of the amino acid cytosine in certain regions of the DNA.
This interference can result in imprinting defects like Angelmann syndrome or Beckwith-Wiedeman syndrome with unusual visible deformities and defects.