Starting a family can be a beautiful experience, but pregnancy doesn’t always come easily or happen as expected. Fertility issues are far more common than couples realize, and many people have to seek fertility testing at some point in their reproductive journeys. If you are struggling to conceive, it may be time to consider fertility tests for both partners. Below is a closer look at when fertility tests are recommended, the types of tests performed, and how to get a fertility test.
Fertility challenges are not uncommon in the United States. According to the latest research, 9 percent of men and 11 percent of women who are considered of reproductive age have experienced some level of fertility problems. After one year of trying to conceive, about 12 to 15 percent of couples are unable to conceive. Therefore, fertility tests are a relatively common objective for people who don’t conceive as quickly as they expect.
There can be several reasons why couples seek fertility tests. Most couples choose to seek fertility tests if they are trying to conceive and haven’t yet been successful after a period of time. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests seeking a fertility evaluation if you have been trying for a year to get pregnant with regular intercourse and no use of birth control.
Age is also a factor to consider when it comes to deciding when to get a fertility test. Women who are over 35 should have an evaluation after six months of trying, and women over 40 may consider an evaluation before trying to conceive. Even though male fertility is not quite as affected by age, fertility can gradually decline for men around the age of 40 much like women. Research has shown that conception after a year of trying is 30 percent less likely for men who are over the age of 40 than for men younger than 30. Therefore, advanced paternal age may also be a reason to seek a fertility test.
Prior medical history is also something to consider when it comes to fertility evaluation. Certain medical conditions and sexual function problems are good reasons to seek fertility tests if you are trying to conceive. For example, it can be a good idea for women to seek fertility tests if they have a history of endometriosis or thyroid issues. Likewise, men may need fertility tests if they have a history of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or have sustained some type of testicular injury.
If a couple is struggling to conceive, it can be a good idea for both partners to be tested. Unless there are factors that make it more likely for the male or female to be the more obvious problem, testing both partners can give you a better idea of what challenges need to be addressed before moving forward.
Laboratory tests, imaging tests, and other procedures may be used to evaluate female fertility. Doctors will usually start out with the most basic lab analyses and pelvic exams first. You may be asked to provide a blood and urine sample, which can show:
Blood tests can also measure the levels of estradiol, FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), and AMH (anti-mullerian hormone), all of which can be an indicator of ovarian reserve or egg supply. You may also be instructed to track ovulation at home during your initial fertility evaluation. Tracking ovulation may be done by taking ovulation tests at home or monitoring your body temperature.
If lab tests don’t reveal any major information about what is causing problems with fertility or the doctor needs more insight due to lab test results, several other steps may be taken depending on the situation. Imaging procedures and tests can include general ultrasounds or a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), both of which can reveal physical abnormalities or problems that may interfere with fertility. A saline-infused ultrasound may also be recommended to look for things like uterine fibroids or polyps that interfere with the implantation of an embryo.
For men, fertility testing also starts out with the most basic assessments. Blood tests may be done to check for hormonal problems and the doctor will likely do a semen analysis. Semen analysis gives a lot of insight into sperm quality, which is one of the most common reasons makes struggle with fertility. The analyses will examine:
Physical exams are also recommended for men who are having problems with fertility. During the exam, the doctor will be looking for physical issues with the scrotum, penis, prostate, and testes that could interfere with sexual function or sperm quality.
Fertility tests are offered by different types of healthcare providers, and there are even some options for doing your own tests at home. For example, you can purchase over-the-counter tests that:
While home tests can be a good starting point for couples who are trying to conceive, they are not as comprehensive and have a large margin for human error. For instance, tests that measure hormones related to ovarian reserve often have to taken during a certain point of the menstrual cycle and sent to a lab immediately via the mail for lab analysis. In the event the sample is taken on the wrong day or held up in the mail, this could affect the accuracy of the results.
Family physicians often offer some basic testing, such as urine or blood tests, pelvic exams, or sperm quality assessments. A gynecologist can also do fertility testing for women. This can include lab testing, physical exams, Pap tests, and imaging procedures. However, it can be better to seek a fertility specialist that is familiar with the different fertility issues that can affect both men and women.
Choosing to get fertility testing can sound intimidating, but testing can give you a more complete look at what reproductive issues could be at play. This information is an excellent starting point when trying to conceive, and many couples discover only small issues are interfering with their efforts. If you are interested in learning more about fertility testing in Chattanooga or Knoxville, the Fertility Center offers testing for both men and women.