London: One in eight women and one in ten men have experienced infertility, yet nearly half of them have not sought medical help, according to a new study of over 15,000 people in the UK.
The study found that, of those who reported experiencing infertility (defined as unsuccessfully trying to become pregnant for a year or longer), 42.7 per cent of women and 46.8 per cent of men did not seek medical help for the problem. Those who did seek help were more likely to have higher educational qualifications, better jobs and, among those who had a child, to have become parents later, compared with those who did not seek help.
"We were surprised that almost half of the people in our study who had experienced infertility had not sought help," said Jessica Datta, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who led the research. The researchers analysed data from 15,162 women and men aged between 16 and 74 years who took part in Britain's third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) between 2010 and 2012. They found that the prevalence of infertility was highest among women aged 35-44 years and among men aged 35-54.
More than a third of women who became mothers aged 35 or older had experienced a period of infertility compared to fewer than one in ten women who had their first child before the age of 25. Experience of infertility was more common among people with higher socio-economic status, including women who had a university degree and both women and men in managerial, professional or technical employment, compared to people in lower status, routine occupations.
"One of the important and concerning findings in our study is the difference in educational attainment and job status between people who sought help for infertility and those who did not," said Datta. "Studies of infertility have tended to recruit research participants from medical settings such as general practice,
so our population-based survey sample provides a rare insight into those people who, despite having failed to get pregnant after a year of trying, did not seek help from health services," she said.
"The existence of inequalities in access to healthcare is well established but this is one of few analyses to explore uptake of services for infertility," Datta added.
Drawing on findings from other studies, the researchers suggest that possible reasons for the inequalities between those who did and did not seek help for infertility include not understanding or acknowledging that a problem exists, fear
of being labelled infertile, concerns about the cost of treatment, the physical and psychological burden of treatment, or simply not wanting to get pregnant. The study was published in the journal Human Reproduction.