Infertility means you cannot make a baby (conceive).

Infertility is grouped into two categories:

Alternative Names

Inability to conceive; Unable to get pregnant


A wide range of physical and emotional factors can cause infertility. Infertility may be due to problems in the woman, man, or both.


Female infertility may occur when:

Female infertility may be caused by:


Male infertility may be due to:

Male infertility can be caused by:

In healthy couples under age 30 who have sex regularly, the chance of getting pregnant is about 25 - 30% per month.

A woman's peak fertility occurs in her early 20s. After age 35 (and especially 40), the chances that a woman can get pregnant drops considerably.


The main symptom of infertility is the inability to become pregnant. Specific symptoms depend on what is causing the infertility.

Infertility can cause many painful emotions in one or both partners.

Exams and Tests

When you should seek treatment for infertility depends on your age. It is recommended that women under 30 should generally try to get pregnant on their own for 1 year before seeking testing.

Infertility testing involves a complete medical history and physical examination of both partners.

Blood and imaging tests will be done. In women, this may include:

Tests in men may include:


Treatment depends on the cause of infertility. It may involve:

It is important to recognize and discuss the emotional impact that infertility has on you and your partner, and to seek medical advice from your health care provider.

You can increase your chances of becoming pregnant each month by having sex at least every 3 days before and during ovulation. It is especially important to do so before ovulation occurs. Sperm can live inside a woman's body for at least 3 days. However, a woman's egg can only be fertilized by the sperm for a few hours after it is released. 

Ovulation occurs about 2 weeks before the next menstrual cycle (period) starts. If a woman gets her period every 28 days, the couple should have sex at least every 3 days between the 10th and 18th day after the period starts.

Support Groups

See: Infertility - support group

Outlook (Prognosis)

As many as 1 in 5 couples diagnosed with infertility eventually become pregnant without treatment.

More than half of couples with infertility become pregnant after treatment, not including advanced techniques such as in vitro fertiliziation (IVF).

Possible Complications

Infertility can have a big emotional impact on you and your partner.

Depression, anxiety, and marriage problems may occur.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you are unable to get pregnant.


Preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, may reduce your risk of infertility.

Maintaining a healthy diet, weight, and lifestyle may increase your chances for getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy.

Take a prenatal or multivitamin containing folate before and during pregnancy. This lowers your risk for miscarriage and developmental problems in the baby.


Rebar RW, Erickson GF. Reproductive endocrinology and infertility In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 244.

Lobo RA. Infertility: etiology, diagnostic evaluation,management, prognosis. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007: chap 41.

Bulun SE. Physiologyand pathology of the female reproductive axis. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 17.

Review Date: 2/26/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.