The simple answer is yes: rates have been rising over the long term. We find a little more complicated answer in two recent studies. One by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that worldwide rates of infertility have remained essentially static over the past 20 years. A 2012 Canadian study indicates that rates in this country appear to be on the rise.
Studies can show different results for different reasons. For instance, the WHO study used a definition of infertility as a couple attempting to get pregnant over a five-year period. Most doctors, including myself, consider a one-year period to be a clear indicator of infertility. Should we throw the WHO study out the window? Not necessarily, perhaps just take it with a grain of salt.
Let’s look at the basic concept that infertility rates have been rising over the long term and why that is happening. First, many couples are getting married at an older age. Older age in women is a primary factor in increased infertility. What’s more, couples are delaying having children. The effect is that it is harder to conceive due to this delayed attempt to start a family.
The rise of sexually transmitted diseases is another contributing factor. People have sexual relations with more sexual partners than in the past, increasing the risk of transmitting or developing pelvic inflammatory disease which causes blocked fallopian tubes.
Authors of the WHO study speculated that part of the reason for a worldwide leveling off of infertility may have been the result of changes in sexual behavior as a reaction to the HIV epidemic. Still, sexually transmitted diseases remain a large factor in the overall increase of infertility.
The Canadian study published in the journal Human Reproduction in March 2012, estimated that in 1984 the incidence of infertility in couples where the woman was age 18-44 was 5.4 percent. By 2009-2010, that figure for the same age group was as high as 15.7 percent.
The study indicates that infertility has increased in Canada since the last time it was studied, and is associated with the age of the female.
I believe it is clear that infertility is a growing problem. And while it may take researchers and doctors quite a bit of time to determine exactly why, we see that increase every day at OriginElle Fertility Clinic & Women’s Health Centre.