Get answers to your female Fertility and Infertility questions.
Pelvic inflammatory disease; Polycystic ovaries
In any fertility work-up, both male and female partners are tested if pregnancy fails to occur after a year of regular unprotected sexual intercourse. Fertility testing should especially be performed if a woman is over 35 years old or if either partner has known risk factors for infertility. An analysis of the man's semen should be performed before the female partner undergoes any invasive testing.
The first step in any infertility work up is a complete medical history and physical examination. Menstrual history, lifestyle issues (smoking, drug and alcohol use, and caffeine consumption), any medications being taken, and a profile of the patient's general medical and emotional health can help the doctor decide on appropriate tests.
Before embarking on an expensive fertility work-up, the following steps are free or low-cost and can be helpful:
Several laboratory tests may be used to detect the cause of infertility and monitor treatments:
Hormonal Levels. Blood and urine tests are taken to evaluate hormone levels. Hormonal tests for ovarian reserve (the number of follicles and quality of the eggs) are especially important for older women.
Examples of possible results include:
Clomiphene Challenge Test. Clomiphene citrate (Clomid, Serophene), a standard fertility drug, may be used to test for ovarian reserve. With this test, the doctor measures FSH on day 3 of the cycle. The woman takes clomiphene orally on days 5 and 9 of the cycle. The doctor measures FSH on the tenth day. High levels of FSH either on day 3 or day 10 indicate a poor chance for a successful outcome.
Tissue Samples. To rule out luteal phase defect, premature ovarian failure, and absence of ovulation, the doctor may take tissue samples of the uterus 1 - 2 days before a period to determine if the corpus luteum is adequately producing progesterone. Tissue samples taken from the cervix may be cultured to rule out infection.
Tests for Autoimmune Disease. Tests for autoimmune disease, such as hypothyroidism and diabetes, should be considered in women with recent ovarian failure that is not caused by genetic abnormalities.
If an initial fertility work-up does not reveal abnormalities, more extensive tests may help reveal abnormal tubal or uterine findings. The four major approaches for examining the uterus and fallopian tubes are:
Combinations of these imaging procedures may be used to confirm diagnoses.
Ultrasound and Sonohysterography. Ultrasound is the standard imaging technique for evaluating the uterus and ovaries, detecting fibroids, ovarian cysts and tumors, and also obstructions in the urinary tract. It uses sound waves to produce an image of the organs and entails no risk and very little discomfort.
Transvaginal sonohysterography uses ultrasound along with saline infused into the uterus, which enhances the visualization of the uterus. This technique is proving to be more accurate than standard ultrasound in identifying potential problems. It is currently the gold standard for diagnosing polycystic ovaries.
Hysteroscopy. Hysteroscopy is a procedure that may be used to detect the presence of endometriosis, fibroids, polyps, pelvic scar tissue, and blockage at the ends of the fallopian tubes. Some of these conditions can be corrected during the procedure by cutting away any scar tissue that may be binding organs together or by destroying endometrial implants.
Hysteroscopy may be done in a doctorâ ' s office or in an operating room, depending on the type of anesthesia used. The procedure uses a long flexible or rigid tube called a hysteroscope, which is inserted into the vagina and through the cervix to reach the uterus. A fiber optic light source and a tiny camera in the tube allow the doctor to view the cavity. The uterus is filled with saline or carbon dioxide to inflate the cavity and provide better viewing. This frequently causes cramping.
There are small risks of bleeding, infection, and reactions to anesthesia. Many patients experience temporary discomfort in the shoulders after the operation due to residual carbon dioxide that puts pressure on the diaphragm. The wound itself is minimally painful.
Hysterosalpingography. Hysterosalpingography is performed to discover possible blockage in the fallopian tubes and abnormalities in the uterus:
There is a small risk of pelvic infection, and antibiotics may be prescribed prior to the procedure.
Laparoscopy. Laparoscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure. It requires general anesthesia and is performed in an operating room. The surgeon makes a very small incision below the belly button and inserts an instrument called a laparoscope, which is similar to a hysteroscope. (The difference is that a laparoscope is inserted through the abdomen, while a hysteroscope is inserted through the cervix.) Through the laparoscope, the surgeon can view the uterus, fallopian tube, and ovaries. Laparoscopy is most helpful for identifying endometriosis or other adhesions that may affect fertility.
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