Infertile couple study
IVF if a well-known technique to help infertile couples BSIP/UIG/Getty

Half of men and women diagnosed with infertility in Britain do not seek out medical assistance, a major study has revealed. From the results, the decision whether or not to look for medical support appeared to be closely associated with differences in socioeconomic status.

The study, published in Human Reproduction, estimates the rates of infertility among British adults, across different age groups. The scientists look at the differences between people depending on whether they decided to take steps to address their inability to have children or to do nothing about it.

They also investigated how an infertility diagnosis could affect a woman's mental health and long-term wellbeing.

Little help is sought

The study analysed data from a population survey: it looked at the results of the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, involving 15,162 women and men aged 16-74 and conducted in 2010-2012.

The survey included a wide range of questions about sexual relationships as well as reproductive history.

Some questions expressly regarded fertility, with participants told to report whether they had failed at getting pregnant in the past 12 months, and if so, if they sought professional help to deal with infertility.

The researchers found that one in eight women and one in 10 men had experienced infertility, and of these, up to 42.7% of women and 46.8% of men had decided not to seek medical advice.

Looking at elements such as education, employment and relationship status, they showed that 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.

Differences in socioeconomic, employment or education can lead to unequal access to healthcare and this could be the case for reproductive medicine. Though the study does not directly identify the exact reasons people have for not seeking help, the authors say a range of explanations may in fact be possible.

"Previous studies have suggested that people may not understand or acknowledge that they have a 'problem', may fear being labelled as infertile, have concerns about the financial costs or the physical and psychological implications of fertility treatment, or are not intending to get pregnant", lead author Jessica Datta from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine told IBTimes UK.

Addressing psychological distress

In another part to the study, the authors investigated whether infertility and lack of treatment could have an impact on the mental health of the many men and women not able to conceive a children.

They found that women aged 50 or younger who experienced infertility were more likely to have symptoms of depression and feel dissatisfaction with their sex life than those who had not. These associations were not observed for men.

"Given that infertility is known to be associated with psychological distress and anxiety, we were interested in examining possible long term effects of a period of infertility on women's wellbeing. These are exploratory findings and we recommend further research into the impact of infertility and fertility treatments on wellbeing and relationships", concludes Datta.