Glossary of Infertility Terms

The following is a list of commonly used terms in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility to help you understand and decipher various conversations you may have or various reports you may read.

ABORTION: Any pregnancy that terminates prior to the 20th week of gestation, regardless of how it ended.

ABORTION – ELECTIVE: A therapeutic or elective abortion.

ABORTION – MISSED: A pregnancy in which the fetus dies but is not expelled from the uterus.

ABORTION – SPONTANEOUS: The official medical term for a miscarriage.

ABORTION – INCOMPLETE: A spontaneous abortion in which only a portion of the fetus and placenta is expelled. Tissue remains inside the uterus which must be removed by D&C.

ABORTION – COMPLETE: A spontaneous abortion in which the entire pregnancy is expelled from the uterus.

ACROSOME – A collection of enzymes grouped at the head of a sperm that dissolves the protective layers around the egg and allows the sperm to penetrate and ultimately fertilize.

ADHESIONS – Bands of scar tissue which form between organs inside the abdomen that are normally not attached to each other. Most commonly they result from previous infection, previous surgery or endometriosis.

AMENORRHEA – The complete absence of vaginal bleeding for either a minimum of six months or three times that woman’s normal cycle length.

ANDROGEN – Any hormone which directly or indirectly produces male characteristics.

ANDROLOGIST – A physician with special knowledge and/or interest in male reproduction; usually a Urologist but can be a Medical Endocrinologist as well.

ANDROSTENEDIONE – A hormone produced in approximately equal amounts by the ovary and the adrenals which is easily converted into testosterone. Androstenedione is therefore technically considered an androgen. It is the principal androgen produced by the ovary.

ANOVULATION – The absence or failure of ovulation.

ANTI-CARDIOLIPIN – One of the antibodies found in the “AntiPhospholipid Syndrome” – an autoimmune disease which predisposes women to recurrent pregnancy loss and other pregnancy complications.

ANTI-SPERM ANTIBODIES – Antibodies produced by either men or women against sperm. Frequently seen in men who have had vasectomies. May interfere with a woman’s ability to become pregnant.

ART – ASSISTED REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGIES – The overall term given to all the various techniques that use varying types of ovarian stimulation (Clomiphene, Pergonal, Humegon, etc.), intrauterine insemination, in vitro fertilization and related procedures.

ASTHENOSPERMIA – Literally means “weak sperm”. Refers to semen in which the motility (active movement of the sperm) is less than forty percent.

AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE – A group of diseases in which your body produces antibodies against its own tissues. Such diseases include Diabetes, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis, Multiple Sclerosis and Endometriosis.

AZOOSPERMIA – The complete absence of sperm in the semen.

CERVICITIS – An inflammation of the cervix. Virtually all women have a mild degree of cervicitis. In some women it is more severe and may effect cervical mucus production.

CERVIX – The lower twenty percent of the uterus with an opening into the upper vagina. Although commonly referred to as a separate organ, it is, in fact, a part of the uterus.

CHLAMYDIA – A sexually transmitted bacterial infection that commonly produces damaged fallopian tubes and may also produce male infertility. It is the second most common sexually transmitted disease and the most common sexually transmitted bacterial disease. It is now the most common communicable disease reported to the CDC.

CLOMIPHENE – A drug used to induce or augment ovulation by stimulating the increased production of FSH and LH from the pituitary gland.

CORPUS LUTEUM – Literally means “yellow body”. Prior to ovulation, the egg forms in the ovary inside a structure called the follicle. Following ovulation, the follicle undergoes a transformation and becomes the corpus luteum – the source of progesterone production.

CRYPTORCHIDISM – Another term for an undescended testicle.

CUMULUS-OOPHORUS: The mound of cells within the follicle in which the ovum is found.

DEHYDRO-EPI-ANDROSTERONE SULFATE (DHEAS): An adrenal hormone which can be converted into androgen. The body produces more DHEAS per day than any other hormone.

DIETHYLSTILBESTROL (DES): An estrogen-like chemical substance given to women in the late 1940’s, 1950’s, and early 1960’s in the mistaken belief it would prevent miscarriage. It significantly affected the reproductive system of women whose mother took DES while pregnant with them.

DIHYDROTESTOSTERONE (DHT): The active form of testosterone.

DUB – DYSFUNCTIONAL UTERINE BLEEDING: Irregular bleeding of hormonal origin after all organic causes have been eliminated. Often used as a “generic” term to describe any irregular vaginal bleeding although it does have a specific definition.

ENDOMETRIOSIS: A common disease effecting women of reproductive age where the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) grows and develops outside the uterus.

ENDOMETRITIS: A chronic inflammation/infection of the endometrium (not to be confused with endometriosis.)

ENDOMETRIUM: The tissue that lines the uterine cavity. It is the source of bleeding during a menstrual period and the place where the early pregnancy implants.

EPIDIDYMIS: A structure which lies next to the testicle and serves as a storage depot and maturation site for sperm.

EPIDIDYMITIS: An inflammation of the epididymis.

ESTRADIOL: The principal estrogen produced by the ovary.

ESTROGEN: Any hormone producing female characteristics.

FIBROID: A tumor of the muscle wall of the uterus; usually benign.

FIMBRIA: The fringe-like end of the fallopian tube which picks up the egg from the ovary after ovulation.

FOLLICLE: The fluid filled structure (therefore technically a cyst) within the ovary in which the egg develops. Also contains the cells which produce estradiol.

FSH: Follicle Stimulating Hormone. A hormone produced by the pituitary gland that helps to initiate and control follicle and egg development.

FOLLICULAR PHASE: The portion of the menstrual cycle from the first day of flow until ovulation has occurred. So termed because this is when the follicle is present in the ovary.

GAMETE: A sperm or egg.

GIFT: Gamete IntraFallopian Tube transfer. A type of ART in which the eggs and sperm are transferred directly into the fallopian tube, usually by laparoscopy, without determining whether or not fertilization has actually occurred. Because of the need for surgery, is being done less frequently since the results with IVF are as good.

GnRH: Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone. A hormone produced by the hypothalamus which stimulates the pituitary gland and controls the production of FSH and LH.

GONAD: The ovary or the testicle.

GONADOTROPIN: The hormones (principally FSH and LH) produced by the pituitary gland that regulate ovarian or testicular function.

HABITUAL ABORTION: The loss of three (3) or more consecutive pregnancies in a row before the 20th week.

HIRSUTISM: The growth of excess hair on a woman that is the result of increased androgen production. The abnormal hair growth is usually located on the chin, neck, cheeks, between the breasts, and in the lower abdomen. Hair on the upper lip or hair around the nipple has no endocrine significance.

HMG: Human Menopausal Gonadotropin: The official medical term for drugs such as Pergonal, Humegon, Metrodin, Fertinex, Repronex, Follistim, and Gonal-F.

HYPOTHALAMUS: A specialized area of the brain which is the actual control center for the endocrine system.

HYSTEROSALPINGOGRAM: An x-ray for visualizing the uterus and fallopian tubes.

HYSTEROSCOPY: A surgical procedure in which a small lighted instrument is inserted through the cervix to visualize the interior of the uterus.

INHIBIN: A hormone produced by the ovary that helps regulate FSH and LH production from the pituitary gland.

ICI – INTRA-CERVICAL INSEMINATION: putting unprepared semen into the cervix; basically a substitute for intercourse. Has only a very limited role in modern infertility therapy.

IUI – INTRAUTERINE INSEMINATION: An assisted reproductive technology procedure in which washed sperm are placed inside the uterus.

IN VITRO FERTILIZATION (IVF): In vitro literally means “in glass.” In vitro fertilization (IVF) is an assisted reproductive technology procedure in which the egg and sperm are put into a Petri dish and fertilization takes place in the dish.

IVF: See in vitro fertilization.

KARYOTYPE: A picture of all the chromosomes from a given person.

LAPAROSCOPY: A surgical procedure in which a lighted instrument is inserted into the abdomen to visualize the reproductive organs and other internal organs as well.

LEYDIG CELLS: Cells in the testicle that produce testosterone.

LUTEAL PHASE: The portion of the menstrual cycle from ovulation to the onset of the next menstrual period. The time of the menstrual cycle when the corpus luteum is present in the ovary.

LUTEAL PHASE DEFECT: The inadequate production of progesterone by the corpus luteum following ovulation.

LUTEINIZED UNRUPTURED FOLLICLE SYNDROME (LUFS): A condition in which the egg is not expelled from the ovary even though other signs of ovulation such as an increased level of progesterone occur. Appears to be significantly more common in women with endometriosis.

LUTEINIZING HORMONE (LH): The other principal hormone produced by the pituitary gland to regulate ovarian function; appears to be more involved with hormone production.

MENSTRUAL CYCLE: Regular periodic vaginal bleeding from the uterus in a woman who is ovulatory. Defined as the time from the first day of one period to the first day of the next period.

MENSTRUATION: Generically used to mean any vaginal bleeding of uterine origin.

Strictly speaking, a woman is “menstruating” only if she has ovulated in that cycle. All other bleeding is “withdrawal bleeding.”

MORPHOLOGY: Means “shape”. In Reproductive Endocrinology, it refers to the shape of the sperm in a semen specimen. Normally, at least 40% of the sperm will be normal.

MYCOPLASMA: A very tiny bacteria that commonly inhabits the vagina. Once thought to play a role in infertility but the data was confusing. More recent studies suggest it may play a role but it is not yet proven. Also recently implicated as a cause of premature rupture of the membranes and premature labor.

MYOMA: The official medical term for a fibroid.

MYOMECTOMY: A surgical procedure to remove myomata (fibroids) without removing the uterus itself.

MYOMETRIUM: The muscular wall of the uterus.

OLIGOMENORRHEA: Menstrual periods occurring less often than every 35 days.

OLIGOSPERMIA: A sperm count less than 20 million per cc.

OOCYTE: The egg.

OVULATION: The actual expulsion of a mature egg from the ovary.

OVULATORY DYSFUNCTION: The overall inclusive term to mean any abnormality associated with ovulation – either hormonal or mechanical.

OVUM: Another term for the egg.

PELVIC INFLAMMATORY DISEASE (PID): An infection in the fallopian tubes often leading to scar tissue, adhesions, blocked tubes and infertility. May also cause chronic pelvic pain. Usually caused by Chlamydia.

PELVISCOPY: More extensive operative laparoscopy.

PITUITARY: A small gland in the brain connected to the hypothalamus. Produces various hormones that control the endocrine glands under the direction of the hypothalamus.

POLYCYSTIC OVARY SYNDROME (PCOS): The most common endocrine syndrome in women of reproductive age. It is characterized by failure of ovulation; evidence of increased androgen production (most commonly hirsutism); frequently associated with obesity and insulin resistance.

POLYMENORRHEA: Menstrual cycles occurring more often than every 21 days.

POST COITAL TEST: A test in which a couple has intercourse and the cervical mucus is then examined for the presence of active sperm.

PROGESTERONE: A hormone essential for early pregnancy growth and development; produced by the corpus luteum following ovulation.

PROLACTIN: A hormone produced by the pituitary gland that prepares the breast for lactation. Increased levels of prolactin are frequently associated with menstrual abnormalities and infertility.

UREAPLASMA: See Mycoplasma.

SALPINX: The medical term for the fallopian tube.

SALPINGITIS: Any inflammation of the fallopian tube.

SALPINGITIS ISTHMICA NODOSA: An inflammatory swelling of the fallopian tube where it attaches to the uterus; frequently associated with infertility and an increased risk of tubal pregnancy.

SALPINGOLYSIS: Any surgical procedure that cuts scar tissue around the fallopian tubes.

SALPINGONEOSTOMY: A surgical procedure to create a new opening in the end of the fallopian tube that has been closed by a previous infection.

SALPINGOSTOMY: Any incision into the fallopian tube – usually to remove a tubal pregnancy.

SEMEN: The liquid substance expelled from the penis at the time of ejaculation. The semen is composed of two portions — the fluid or seminal plasma and the sperm.

SPERM COUNT: The actual number of sperm per cubic centimeter in the semen — normal is anything over 20 million.

TESTOSTERONE: The principal male hormone (in terms of potency — not amount.)

VARICOCELE: Varicose veins next to the testicle.

ZIFT: Zygote IntraFallopian Tube transfer. Another type of ART in which the Zygote is transferred by laparoscopy into the fallopian tube rather than into the uterine cavity as is the case with regular IVF.

ZYGOTE: The newly fertilized egg before it has begun to divide.

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