Infertility affects 10%-15% of couples who are unable to conceive. In some cases, the cause of infertility cannot be determined using conventional diagnostic methods, leading to a diagnosis of “unexplained infertility.” However, it is important to note that in most cases labeled as “unexplained infertility,” a more thorough evaluation could have revealed an underlying cause. There are two main groups of individuals diagnosed with unexplained infertility: those without any biological problems hindering pregnancy, and those with unidentified reasons due to limited medical information or technology. Fortunately, advancements in testing techniques have made it easier to diagnose and treat infertility in the latter group.
To make a presumptive diagnosis of unexplained infertility, healthcare providers need affirmative answers to several questions. These include whether the woman is ovulating normally, whether the couple engages in regular intercourse during the periovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle, whether the fallopian tubes are normal and open, whether endometriosis can be ruled out, whether the male partner has normal semen parameters (especially sperm count and motility), and whether the presence of high concentrations of antisperm antibodies in the man or woman’s blood is associated with sperm incapacitation.
Causes of Unexplained Infertility
The diagnosis of unexplained infertility depends on the thoroughness of the healthcare provider in attempting to rule out all potential causes. The fewer tests conducted, the more likely it is that a presumptive diagnosis of “unexplained” infertility will be made. Below are a few causes of infertility that are often missed leading to the cause of infertility being mischaracterized as being “unexplained:
- Subtle abnormalities involving the fallopian tubes without causing them to be “blocked”, often go unnoticed. Examples include subtle peritubal adhesions and/ or developmental or acquired defects involving the tubal fimbria (i.e., the finger-like “petals” at their outer ends), can prevent the collection and transportation of eggs to meet sperm. Detecting these conditions requires direct visualization of lesions through laparoscopy or laparotomy
- Chromosomal abnormalities in eggs or embryos can also contribute to infertility. Both eggs and embryos must contain the correct number of chromosomes (euploid) for successful fertilization and implantation. Until recently, there was no reliable method to determine their chromosomal status. However, the introduction of preimplantation genetic screening/testing (PGS/T), using genetic tests like next generation gene sequencing (NGS) has enabled the identification of embryo, numerical chromosomal abnormalities (aneuploidy) which when present will prejudice fertility. PGS/T has become an essential tool in diagnosing infertility.
- Luteinized Unruptured Follicle (LUF) Syndrome is another condition that can contribute to unexplained infertility. In this condition, eggs become trapped in the follicle and are not released, despite routine tests indicating normal ovulation. Hormonal dysfunction related to ovulation can also negatively impact the preparation of the uterine lining, hindering normal implantation.
- Immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) can occur when the woman’s or man’s immune system attacks sperm cells, rendering them immobile or causing their destruction. Additionally, immunologic dysfunction involving the uterine lining can lead to early rejection of the implanting embryo, often before the woman realizes she has conceived.
- Cervical infection, specifically Ureaplasma Urealyticum infection of the cervical glands, can prevent sperm from reaching the eggs in the fallopian tubes. This type of infection is usually undetectable through routine examination or cervical culturing methods.
- Mild or moderate endometriosis is a condition associated with the production of “pelvic toxins” that reduce the fertilization potential of eggs. Approximately one-third of women with endometriosis also experience IID. Detecting mild or moderately severe endometriosis requires direct visualization of lesions through laparoscopy or laparotomy, and identifying IID requires sophisticated tests performed by specialized Reproductive Immunology Reference Laboratories. In some cases of early endometriosis the lesions are “nonpigmented” and cannot even be detected through direct vision, yet they can significantly impact fertility through establishing a “toxic” intrapelvic environment that compromises competency of the egg as it traverses the pelvic environment during passage from the ovary to the tube.
- Psychological factors can also influence fertility. Stress and negativity can interfere with hormonal balance and decrease the ability to conceive.
- Mild Male Factor infertility that are not readily detected through routine semen analysis.
- Antisperm antibodies (ASA) in the man or in the woman. This can only be diagnosed using high specialized blood and sperm test.
Management of Unexplained Infertility
When it comes to managing “Unexplained Infertility,” a personalized approach is crucial for success. The first step is to identify any underlying causes whenever possible. For those experiencing ovulation dysfunction due to hormonal imbalances, ovulation induction with oral or injectable fertility drugs is often recommended. In cases where an IID is detected, selective immunotherapy will be required and in cases cervical mucus hostility is caused by a ureaplasma infection, specific and simultaneous antibiotic therapy becomes necessary.
For younger women (under 39 years) facing issues with sperm migration through the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes, intrauterine insemination (IUI) with or without controlled ovulation stimulation (COS) is often the recommended course of action. However, if these treatments prove ineffective, or if the woman is over 39 years old, has IID, harbors significant concentrations of antisperm antibodies, or has structural tubal abnormalities, IVF becomes the preferred option. In cases of male infertility that are intractable, moderate, or severe, where natural fertilization seems unlikely, injecting sperm directly into the egg through a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)/IVF is necessary to achieve fertilization.
It is an undeniable truth that the majority of infertility cases can be diagnosed, which makes it disheartening when the label of “unexplained infertility” is used as an excuse for not conducting a thorough evaluation of the problem. Couples should not simply accept a diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” at face value. Instead, they should actively seek to have their treating physician identify the specific cause of their infertility, as treatment is most likely to be successful when the root cause is fully understood. By taking charge of their reproductive health and exploring all possible avenues, couples can increase their chances of achieving their dream of starting a family.
Ready to take the first step towards a clearer path to your dream family? Empower your journey to parenthood with Sher Fertility Solutions. Embrace a thorough approach that uncovers the root cause of your fertility challenges, breaking through the label of “unexplained infertility”. Our expert team is armed with advanced testing techniques and a wealth of experience to guide you to your best treatment options. Schedule a consultation with us to get started on your fertility journey.