Fertility expert speaks to the Circular

Gillian Chapman

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Fertility is the natural way in which humans produce offspring. But, what happens when this doesn’t come as naturally as we expect? What really is infertility? and is there anything we can do to improve our fertility?

The World Health Organisation defines infertility as “An inability of those of reproductive age (15-49 years) to become or remain pregnant within five years of exposure to pregnancy.” To find out more I went to speak to leading authority in reproductive medicine and Clinical Director at Beacon CARE Fertility, Dr Ahmed Omar.

As humans get older, their fertility declines.  Dr Omar explained “The decline is more prominent for women’s fertility as they are born with their eggs so women’s eggs are the same age as they are. Human eggs start the process of ageing in the early to mid-30s which mean that the decline in the fertility potential becomes more prominence in the late 30s and 40s. By the time women reach the age of 43, the chances of conception with their own eggs become significantly reduced in addition to the increased risk of miscarriage and chromosomal abnormalities like Down’s syndrome. This is due to the increasing incidence of chromosomal abnormalities in the eggs with female age. Men’s fertility is also expected to decline with age however the effect of age male fertility is not as prominent as in female.”

With the high obesity rates in and prominent alcohol culture in  Ireland,  I was keen to ask Dr Omar whether our unhealthy lifestyle may be having an effect on our fertility, “Lifestyle can have an important impact on the fertility potential for both women and men. A man’s lifestyle can have an impact on the quality of the sperm they produce. A women’s lifestyle can have a significant impact on the quality of their eggs. Stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake, avoiding the use of recreational drugs, healthy diet, adequate hydration, weight reduction, exercise, protection from radiation and industrial toxins are all important to improve fertility potential.”

The Fertilisation of an egg. Maria Mellor (flickr).
The Fertilisation of an egg. Photo credit: Maria Mellor (Flickr).

Dr Omar says that one in five Irish couples will have difficulty when trying to conceive in Ireland today, “this is mainly due to people delaying having children until they are in their mid-thirties”. With the delay in many people having children, people are continuing to use contraceptive methods such as the contraceptive pill or the implant for a longer period of time, I was interested to ask whether this can have any on our fertility “There is no evidence to suggest that long-term use of oral contraceptive pill can have a long-term impact on a woman’s fertility potential however prolonged delay of fertility itself is the issue.” 

Dr Omar explained what he can do for people who present to him with fertility issues “The Majority of couples having difficulty to conceive are sub-fertile and the majority of them can be treated successfully. Unfortunately, some couples may be sterile and this is a bigger problem. Sterile men may have testicular failure. Sterile women may have experienced early menopause, thus, they cannot produce eggs or they may have congenital absence of the uterus or the uterus may have been removed surgically for gynaecological causes. It is still possible to offer some of these patients alternative treatment including sperm or eggs and donation or surrogacy in cases of an absence of the uterus. For subfertile people who are having difficulty conceiving naturally, we can offer a number of treatments, including, IUI or IVF“. 

Finally, I asked Dr. Omar if young women who wish to have children in the future should consider making use of the advanced reproductive medicine by getting their eggs frozen at a young age to preserve their quality eggs “Fertility preservation is advisable for women for considering delaying her fertility beyond the age of 35 as it may help them to achieve successful pregnancies they decided to have a child in the late 30s or 40s”.

To find out more about fertility treatments and how you can get your fertility checked, visit BeaconCareFertility.ie.

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Gillian Chapman