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Time to pregnancy: a measure of reproductive function in either sex. Asclepios Project.
  1. M Joffe
  1. Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Imperial College School of Medicine at St Mary's, London.


    INTRODUCTION: Growing evidence of reproductive effects associated with occupational and environmental agents has created the need for research with sensitive and well validated methods. There is a complex relation between manifest effects and underlying pathogenic processes. Conceptions will on average tend to be delayed in a population exposed to an agent that causes embryonic damage, an increase in germ cell mutations, or decreased fertility. STUDYING TIME TO PREGNANCY: Time to pregnancy can be used to measure the degree of delay in conceiving, across the whole continuum of biological fertility, in either men or women. The distribution of time to pregnancy largely reflects a sorting process, as the more fertile couples become progressively less well represented with the passage of time. The basic research strategy is comparison of the time to pregnancy within groups defined by their exposures, allowing for potential confounding factors relating not only to the study subject but also to his or her partner. MEASUREMENT AND VALIDITY: Prospective and retrospective methods are available, and each has strengths and weaknesses. Prospective studies have some theoretical advantages, but have unrepresentative populations and problems of feasibility and cost. Retrospective assessment of time to pregnancy is feasible with a short questionnaire, without intruding into sensitive areas of respondents' lives, with good validity at the group level, and without the necessity of large populations. Potential biases have been identified that can be minimised by careful design and analysis; the principal remaining problem is difficulty in obtaining exposure data retrospectively.

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