Infertility and Sterility | What’s The Difference?

The process of trying to conceive can be really tasking for some couples. In fact, certain people struggle with infertility for so long that they are convinced they are actually sterile. Thankfully, this is not always the case. Although the terms infertility and sterility occur interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing.

Yes, both terms are similar in the sense that they refer to one form of inability to conceive or the other, yet, key differences exist in their definitions and meanings.

This article will give you clarity on both terms.

You will get to understand what infertility and sterility really is; the common causes of infertility in both men and women, the causes of sterility, as well as tests and treatment for infertility.

What is infertility and sterility?

Infertility is the failure to conceive after 1 year of regular sex without contraception.

Infertility and Sterility

A person is also said to be infertile if he/she has been trying to conceive but is unable to do so with unprotected, well-timed sex for over a year. However, for people above 35, there’s only a 6-month window before diagnosis.

Infertility could be primary or secondary.

Primary infertility refers to couples who have been unable to become pregnant after having sexual intercourse for a minimum of 1 year without contraceptives. Secondary infertility, on the other hand, refers to those who have been able to get pregnant at least once but are unable to do so again.

Medically, sterility refers to the inability to produce a child.

A sterile person is one who is unable to conceive no matter the intervention strategies employed. This means that even with medical, surgical, or assisted reproductive technologies, a sterile person still won’t be able to conceive.

Fertility: what are the most common causes of infertility?

Infertility is a common medical condition in most parts of the world. However, with proper diagnosis and treatment, most previously infertile people are able to conceive successfully. Interestingly, infertility is not gender-specific. That is, the actual cause may be from the man, woman, or both of them at the same time.

What causes infertility in women?

  • Endometriosis
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Diminished ovarian reserve
  • Anovulatory cycle
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Thyroid disease
  • Rhesus factor (causes secondary infertility)
  • Short luteal phase

What causes infertility in men?

  • Low sperm count
  • Low sex hormone levels
  • Varicocele 

Sterility: what causes sterility?

Just as it is with infertility, either the man or the woman can be sterile.

Sterility is usually a result of a medical condition or a surgical procedure like vasectomy (surgical removal of all or part of the vas deferens); hysterectomy (surgical removal of all or part of the uterus); tubal ligation or any other surgical procedure that results in the removal of the fallopian tube.

You can read this article on the possibility of pregnancy without fallopian tubes.

Furthermore, genetic or chromosomal disorders like Klinefelter’s Syndrome can also result in sterility.

Infertility and Sterility

Testing for infertility

You may be curious as to why you’re unable to conceive after trying for several months or years without any success. You may also be curious to know whether you or your partner, and sometimes both of you, are responsible for the disappointment. Don’t be so hard on yourself or your partner, human biology is complex and certain imbalances can affect fertility.

Infertility and Sterility

It is best for you to seek a medical expert’s advice and allow them to guide you through the process of evaluating and discussing your infertility or sterility. In most cases, the evaluation steps involved in testing infertility or sterility include a full medical history and proper physical, hormonal, and functional examination.

Female fertility testing:

Your full medical history includes your gynecological history such as your:

  • Menstrual cycle details
  • Frequency of intercourse
  • Surgical history
  • Medications you’re currently on, if any.

In addition, your doctor will also ask how regular your ovulation is since it is very important for conception to take place. Your doctor will also attempt to determine your ovarian reserve (that is, the number of eggs left in your ovaries). For this, you’d need to take an ultrasound and a blood test.

This blood test will determine your hormone levels, with particular focus on Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH). In addition, with the ultrasound, your doctor can count the number of small follicles (antral follicle count) on your ovaries.

These tests help your doctor determine your best option for conception success.

Another test that provides reliable info on the health of your fallopian tubes, uterus, and pelvis is the hysterosalpingography (HSG). This procedure uses a contrast dye to fill the uterine cavity and fallopian tubes and then spills out into the pelvis. It is to check for any blockages or abnormalities.

Male fertility testing:

Male factor infertility is responsible for about 30-40% of all infertility cases.

As a result, for couples trying to conceive, it is important for the man to know his fertility status. The best way to get this done is to test his sperm through semen analysis. Semen analysis helps to know the concentration of the sperm and also the percentage of the sperm that are motile and normal.

Treating infertility and sterility

Treatment for infertility depends on the outcome of proper fertility testing.

Nonetheless, possible interventions include medications and assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI).

Infertility and Sterility

Sterility, on the other hand, is irreversible.

Hence, the possible solution is to get an egg donor if the woman is sterile or a sperm donor if the man is sterile. 

In Conclusion,

Infertility is not a permanent condition. With proper diagnosis and treatment, previously infertile couples can start their own happy families. On the other hand, sterility is permanent. In this case, an external donor would be needed for a sterile couple to have children.

Finally, you should always seek the help and advice of a medical expert before opting for any treatment process regarding sterility and infertility. Remember, you are not alone.