Key points of secondary infertility
- Secondary infertility is the inability to get pregnant or carry the pregnancy to term after previously having one or more biological children.
- It affects about 14% of women in the United States.
- The causes can be attributed to one or both partners and include impaired sperm or eggs, age, complications from a previous pregnancy or surgery, medications or other medical conditions, sexually transmitted infections, and lifestyle factors like weight gain, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes.
- Several treatment options exist, depending on the underlying reasons for infertility. These include fertility medications, surgery, donor eggs or sperm and assisted reproductive technologies.
- Parents should consult with a fertility specialist to determine the best treatment option for their situation.
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What is secondary infertility?
Secondary infertility means an inability to conceive or carry a baby to full term after having conceived and given birth to one or more children naturally in the past.
As with primary infertility, secondary infertility factors can be traced to either partner. It is diagnosed when a couple or person can’t conceive after trying for a year or more in women under 35; or for six months or more in women 35 years of age or older.
Secondary infertility can be a frustrating diagnosis and is often caused by more than one factor. When doctors can’t identify a medical reason for this type of infertility, they give a diagnosis of unexplained secondary infertility.
Symptoms of secondary infertility
There are no specific symptoms for this condition, as it is typically diagnosed when a couple has been trying to conceive for at least a year without success, despite having had a child in the past.
That said, some possible contributing factors that serve as warning signs include irregular periods, hormonal imbalances and erectile dysfunction.
Causes of secondary infertility
There are many causes for infertility in general, including age-related factors, hormonal imbalances, medical conditions and lifestyle factors. These can all be factors with secondary infertility.
Related reading: Learn about infertility in men
Related reading: Learn about infertility in women
Secondary infertility may also result from factors that have developed since a previous childbirth. These include infections, complications during childbirth, or changes in lifestyle or health.
Certain infections like chlamydia or complications during a previous pregnancy, such as a Cesarean section delivery or placenta previa, can lead to scarring and damage to the uterus, fallopian tubes or cervix. Changes in hormone levels or in the structure of the reproductive organs can also contribute to secondary infertility.
We have a thing for the small things
- We get to know every patient and their individual stories.
- Ember’s staff members provide a hands-on, guided journey, not an assembly line experience.
- We believe everyone has the right to have a baby: couples, individuals, LGBTQ+ people, and those with difficult cases or of advanced age.
Next step: diagnosing & treating secondary infertility
The first step in diagnosing this condition is a comprehensive physical exam and a review of the patient’s medical history. Our fertility specialist, Dr. William Freije, may also recommend some diagnostic tests, including:
- Blood tests. A hormone evaluation may be necessary to check hormone levels and a woman’s ovarian reserve.
- Ultrasound. An ultrasound can help the doctor detect any abnormalities or structural problems in the reproductive system.
- Hysterosalpingography (HSG). This test uses X-rays and a dye to evaluate the fallopian tubes and uterus.
Secondary infertility treatment
The treatments for secondary infertility may differ from those for primary infertility, depending on the underlying cause. However, some of the treatments that are commonly used for primary infertility may also be effective for secondary infertility, such as medications.
The treatment for secondary infertility may include:
- Surgery. Surgery can correct structural problems that may be causing infertility, like scarring or blockages in the fallopian tubes.
- Assisted reproductive technology (ART). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ART includes infertility treatments that involve the handling of eggs or embryos, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), donor eggs and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Dr. Freije emphasizes that these treatments should mimic mother nature whenever possible.
- Fertility drugs. Various fertility drugs can regulate ovulation, stimulate ovulation, improve egg quality and increase the chance of pregnancy.
- Lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes can also make a significant impact on fertility. A healthcare provider may recommend things like exercise, a healthy diet and quitting smoking.
- Donor and third-party options. If the above treatments are not an option, our doctor may recommend donor options like donor eggs, donor sperm or gestational carriers.