Doctor's office—not Internet—still main source for infertility information

January 23, 2014 by Leslie Reed
Julia McQuillan

(Medical Xpress)—For a woman worried about why she hasn't become pregnant, the Internet and its anonymity might seem an appealing way to learn about infertility.

Yet a newly published study involving University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers shows surprisingly few women rely solely on the Web for medical about why they haven't conceived.

Data from the National Survey of Fertility Barriers indicated that most women who turned to the Web for answers to fertility questions did so in addition to seeking face-to-face help from a physician.

That may be a good sign, according to UNL sociologist Julia McQuillan and Katie Slauson-Blevins, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. McQuillan aided Slauson-Blevins on the research while Slauson-Blevins pursued her Ph.D. at UNL.

"It's helping us get a handle on unmet need. If more people were going online (for information) without seeking medical care, it could mean that people are interested in care but aren't getting it," McQuillan said.

"The impression we got very strongly is that seeking information from the Internet is something women do to supplement, rather than replace, face-to-face health care," Slauson-Blevins said.

The study analyzed the responses of 1,352 women, ages 25 to 45, who self-identified as infertile in a 2006 random telephone survey.

The respondents were considered to have infertility if they reported having unprotected sex for a year without conceiving. The study looked at the responses of heterosexual women who wanted to get pregnant or weren't trying to avoid pregnancy, as well as those with other health issues that prevented them from becoming pregnant.

The results:

  • 9 percent of the respondents said they searched online for information about infertility, but had not sought medical treatment.
  • 25 percent sought information online and talked to a doctor.
  • 32 percent saw a doctor without seeking information from the Internet.
  • 34 percent reported that they had not sought medical treatment or online information about why they hadn't become pregnant.

"We were surprised that so few women had searched for information online only," the researchers wrote in a December article in the journal Social Sciences & Medicine. "Because many more women had both searched online and talked to a doctor in-person about infertility, we see Internet health-seeking as primarily a supplement to going to a doctor."

The Internet has become a leading source of health information. In 2012, 81 percent of Internet users reported they had searched online for health information. A majority are trying to learn more about a specific condition or disease.

Slauson-Blevins said further study is needed to parse out how women are using the Internet to learn about infertililty, including the timing of their searches. Do they turn to the Web as a first step, to help decide whether to seek medical attention? Or do they use it after they've seen a doctor, to learn more about their options?

Slauson-Blevins said she now is working with a fertility clinic in Virginia to research how couples obtain about infertility.

She said doctors there report anecdotally that their patients often arrive for office visits armed with information researched from the Web.

"It's not just that we go online to find out if we need to go to a doctor but to supplement the information we get from the doctor," she said.

Slauson-Blevins said it is not necessarily surprising that more than one-third of the surveyed indicated they had not sought medical help for their infertility.

"A big consideration is whether you perceive you have a problem," she noted. "If you're having unprotected sex at age 18 and you don't get pregnant, you might feel lucky. If you're 25 years old and trying to have a baby, you'll have a very different understanding."

Since 2006, smart phones have made it easier than ever for more people to use the Internet, McQuillan and Slauson-Blevins said. They said they expect Web searches to become an even more prevalent source of information about infertility in the future.

Explore further: Wealthier women more likely to use fertility services

More information: Kathleen S. Slauson-Blevins, Julia McQuillan, Arthur L. Greil, Online and in-person health-seeking for infertility, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 99, December 2013, Pages 110-115, ISSN 0277-9536, dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.10.019.

Related Stories

Wealthier women more likely to use fertility services

January 22, 2014
(HealthDay)—New U.S. government statistics show there's still a major divide among women when it comes to infertility: Poor, nonwhite and less educated women are the least likely to seek services to get pregnant.

Infertility rate declines among US couples

August 14, 2013
(HealthDay)—Despite the rise in fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization, infertility rates have actually decreased among U.S. women of childbearing age, a government report released Wednesday shows.

‘Infertile’ women may just need longer to conceive

February 20, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- One-in-four women with a history of infertility can still end up having a baby without treatment, a new study from The University of Queensland (UQ) shows.

Pregnancy tops list of most google-searched symptoms

January 3, 2014
(HealthDay)—The top 10 most Google-searched symptoms in 2013 included those for pregnancy, influenza, and diabetes, but not those for cancer or heart disease, according to an article published Dec. 18 in Medical Economics.

Timing crucial in achieving pregnancy

September 3, 2012
A survey of women seeking fertility assistance to become pregnant found most did not know which days of the menstrual cycle they were fertile and most likely to conceive.

Women conceive naturally after IVF, study finds

August 13, 2013
One in three women who have their first baby through infertility treatment, become pregnant again naturally within two years of their first birth, a new study has found.

Recommended for you

Population health impact of infants born small for gestational age in low- and middle-income countries

August 18, 2017
In low-and middle-income countries, it is common for babies to be born of low birth weight, due to either inadequate growth in utero (fetal growth restriction) and/or preterm birth, (birth before 37 weeks gestation). Maternal ...

Hormone from fat tissue can give protection against polycystic ovary syndrome

August 10, 2017
Obesity and reduced insulin sensitivity are common in polycystic ovary syndrome, PCOS. New research based on animal studies, and to be published in the journal PNAS, reveals that the hormone adiponectin can protect against ...

Study in mice may reveal insights into causes of miscarriages for some women

August 9, 2017
Researchers at St. Michael's Hospital have identified how natural killer cells in the mouse placenta can cause a fetus to fail to grow in the womb or cause miscarriages.

Insomnia, sleep apnea nearly double the risk of preterm delivery before 34 weeks

August 9, 2017
Pregnant women who are diagnosed with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia appear to be at risk of delivering their babies before reaching full term, according to an analysis of California births by researchers ...

Elective freezing of IVF embryos linked to higher pregnancy rates in some cases

August 1, 2017
A delay in transferring embryos to the mother improves the success of in vitro fertilization in certain cases, according to a study by scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Celmatix Inc. and several other ...

Negative birth outcomes linked to air pollution exposure early in pregnancy, study finds

July 27, 2017
Exposure to air pollution early in a pregnancy could increase risk for preterm birth and low birth weight, according to a study led by researchers at NYU School of Medicine, and published on July 27 in Environmental Health ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.