Expert’s Corner: Infertility common but diagnosis, treatments have improved

Reproductive ob/gyn pioneer Julia Johnson offers encouragement to those trying for pregnancy

By Bryan Goodchild and Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

July 24, 2014

Infertility—the inability to achieve pregnancy after one year of trying—is a distressing and very real medical condition. In this Expert’s Corner video, obstetrician/gynecologist and reproductive medicine pioneer Julia Johnson, MD, gives an update on incidence, causes and diagnosis, and talks about improved success rates for today’s infertility treatments.

“Infertility is actually a very common disorder. It affects about 10 percent of couples during their reproductive years, so it is one of the more common medical conditions for that age group,” said Dr. Johnson, chair and professor of obstetrics & gynecology.

“Age is a factor,” she confirmed. “The likelihood of [infertility] and the risk of pregnancy loss go up as we get older.”

About 20 percent of infertility is unexplained, with the other 80 percent evenly split between male- and female-factor causes. These include problems with sperm, with eggs or with the two getting together.

Success rates for infertility treatments have improved since Johnson became a reproductive endocrinologist. While those experiencing unexplained infertility still have a 3 percent chance of pregnancy each month without any treatment, for couples with or without a definitive diagnosis, treatments boost the chance of getting pregnant any month they try, according to Johnson.

“In vitro fertilization, which was just starting when I was in training, has now advanced to the point that the chance of pregnancy with IVF is about 35 to 40 percent. That is something where we’ve really seen progression over the years.”

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