Many patients are curious about whether fertility issues their parents might have struggled with may have a role in their own ability to get pregnant. My answer is always the same: your parents’ issues will not necessarily become yours.
In general, the more you know about your family’s health history, the more your medical team can start using those facts in evaluating your overall health and fertility picture.
There are many possible causes for decreased fertility, including endometriosis, fibroids, premature menopause, polycystic ovary syndrome, low sperm count, underlying conditions, and physical issues. Some of these – hypothyroidism or polycystic ovary syndrome in particular – do tend to run in families.
Still, patterns of fertility in your family may not predict how easily you will conceive.
We know, for example, that fertility decreases with age. In general, older women have a lower chance of getting pregnant. By the time women are 30 years old, a quarter of them will have issues with fertility. If your mom or sister was trying to conceive around age 40 or later, that could have been the source of her difficulties.
There can also be some difficulty in determining your family history. Sometimes family members will not mention difficulty conceiving, or miscarriages, until they hear that another family member is having difficulties. Talking with family members can offer family members the ability to support you through your fertility journey, but the decision of when and how much to share with your family members is up to you.
While your family history is helpful for our medical team to be aware of, it can be difficult to interpret family history as it relates to an individual patient’s situation. That is why we always discuss and evaluate each individual patient or couple as unique, rather than depending on family history alone. Only with a consultation can we discover what blood tests and imaging studies might give us an answer for what might be going on. Even with all the testing we have to offer, approximately 25% of couples will have normal tests and no good explanation for their difficulty conceiving, even with a positive family history.
For more information or to make an appointment at the U-M Center for Reproductive Medicine, visit the Center for Reproductive Medicine website.
Senait Fisseha, MD, JD, is the medical director for the University of Michigan Health System’s Center for Reproductive Medicine. Her areas of specialty cover all aspects of infertility including: polycystic ovary syndrome, recurrent pregnancy loss, other endocrine disorders resulting in infertility; as well as assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF/ICSI, and gamete and embryo cryopreservation.
The University of Michigan Center for Reproductive Medicine uses a multidisciplinary approach that brings the expertise of endocrinology and infertility specialists, OB-GYN’s, urologists, lab technicians and research scientists together to help each of our clients have access to the latest expertise and technology available – through one convenient center.