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What does 'unexplained infertility' actually mean?

It is estimated one in six couples in Australia will struggle to get pregnant.

For some, the reason will be explicit.

Better Health Victoria identifies the most common causes of infertility in women to be problems with fallopian tubes, ovulation disorders, endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease or polycystic ovarian syndrome.

For men, issues such as a low sperm count, blocked vas deferens tubes, genetic diseases or abnormally shaped sperm can prevent them from impregnating their partner.

But for almost one in three couples who have not fallen pregnant after a year of trying, a diagnosis of unexplained infertility is given.

Unexplained infertility can feel hopeless. Image via iStock.
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Put simply, unexplained infertility refers to cases in which infertility testing has been unable to identify the cause for the failure to get pregnant. It is also termed idiopathic infertility.

Access Australia, Australia's National Infertility Network, says the term 'infertility' can actually be misleading, as that suggests the individual cannot fall pregnant without treatment. In fact, most couples struggling to conceive are sub-fertile, meaning there are multiple mild issues rather than a single factor.

For the average couple, the chance of falling pregnant during any given cycle is approximately 20 per cent, but for couples with unexplained infertility, it's closer to one to four per cent chance without treatment.

That said, the good news is couples with unexplained infertility have a 50 per cent change of getting pregnant naturally within the 12 months following their diagnosis. The chances of conceiving naturally, however, are reduced for three groups of women; those over 30, those who have been trying for more than three years, and those who have never fallen pregnant.

Additionally, couples with unexplained infertility have a 50 percent chance of getting pregnant naturally within a year following diagnosis.

Access Australia states "even without a definitive diagnosis, reproductive technologies can help - and in many cases have very good results."

But the question on the lips of most couples who have received an unexplained infertility diagnosis is; what next?

Deb Knight shares her IVF story. Post continues below...

There are several options for couples, including:

  • Intrauterine insemination, otherwise known as artificial insemination. This involves inserting specially washed sperm into the uterus during ovulation.
  • Timed intercourse.
  • Lifestyle changes.
  • Fertility drugs.
  • Controlled ovarian hyperstimulation (COH)
  • In vitro fertilisation (IVF) which involves retrieving the egg from the woman, and fertilising it with sperm in a lab setting.
  • Zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT) which is similar to IVF, but embryos are placed in the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus.
  • Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) where the eggs and sperm are fertilised and placed in fallopian tubes.
  • Intracytoplasmic sperm infection (ICSI) commonly used alongside IVF.

Although it might not seem like there are any answers, there are several options for men or women confronted with an unexplained infertility diagnosis.