Every couple’s fertility journey is different. Some may fall pregnant straight away and some may take a little bit of time. Taking a fertility test is a sure way to ease the mind of any fertility issues. Falling pregnant can become frustrating and anxiety-riddled when you’re waiting for that positive test.
If you and your partner are having regular, unprotected sex without falling pregnant, a trip to your GP may be best. Your GP will be able to offer you support and advice on trying for a baby and may be able to carry out some tests to explore why you haven’t been able to get pregnant.
Although 80% of couples fall pregnant within 12 months of trying, fertility test are a sure way to see if there are any issues limiting your ability to conceive.
Referral to a fertility specialist is generally recommended after 12 months of trying to get pregnant. In some cases, for example, if you are over 35 or if there are reasons to suspect that you may have difficulty conceiving due to previous medical problems, then you may be referred after 6 months.
If you are under 35, there may be some red flags for you to see your GP. You may want to see your GP if you’re experiencing irregular cycles, ovarian cysts or miscarriages. In this case, seeing your doctor after 6 months of conceiving is best.
Even if you are concerned about your fertility before trying to conceive, you should visit your GP. Regular check-ups and visits can give you a head start by discussing possible issues, genetic testing and lifestyle habits.
It’s best to see your GP together with your partner as fertility problems can affect both men and women. Your GP will ask you both about your general health and lifestyle including your weight, how much alcohol you drink and if you smoke. She’ll ask about previous pregnancies and if either of you have children already. You’ll also be asked about how often you have sex, and if you previously used contraception, she may ask you about this.
In some cases, your doctor may wish to carry out a physical examination to look for clues to why you haven’t been able to get pregnant so far. For women, this might include a pelvic examination. For men, this might include checking the penis and scrotum for any abnormalities. Your doctor might also do a more general examination to check your weight and blood pressure to assess your general health.
Your GP may also arrange some tests for you. Women often have a blood test to measure a hormone level to confirm they are ovulating, as well as a test for chlamydia as this infection can lead to fertility problems if it is not treated. Men will usually be asked to provide semen for analysis and a chlamydia test.
For men who have an abnormal semen analysis result, further tests may include tests of the hormonal system, scans of the male reproductive organs and examining a sample of the testes.
In women, it is often helpful to assess if the fallopian tubes (which connect the ovaries to the uterus) look normal. This can be done with a type of x-ray called a hysterosalpingogram or a specialised ultrasound – a hysterosalpingo-contrast ultrasound scan. If either of these scans suggests a blockage of the tube then you may be offered a laparoscopy – an operation done by keyhole where a camera is used to examine the uterus, ovaries and tubes.
There is the possibility that your doctor doesn’t pick up any irregularities on your fertility tests. In this case, your GP may refer you to a fertility specialist. Depending on your results, they will be able to discuss the different fertility treatments options that are best for you. Treatments include intrauterine insemination (IUI), in vitro fertilization (IVF), a sperm count increase surgery for men, or unblocking fallopian tubes in women.
While fertility issues are commonly thought to just concern women, men can get tests done too. After all, trying to conceive takes 2 people and it’s important that you both are considered for testing.
For women, the types of fertility tests include:
Attending lots of appointments and having tests done can be stressful so it’s important to take care of yourself and be aware of the impact stress can have on your body and your relationships.
It’s also helpful to be aware that although many couples will conceive within a year, around 1 in 10 couples will just take a bit longer, yet still get pregnant naturally within 2 – 3 years.
Dr Beverley (MBChB, MRCGP) is a qualified GP. She works in a GP practice in Manchester and also helps in the out of hours GP service. She has experience in both obstetrics & gynaecology and paediatrics and has three children of her own.
Click here to read more articles by Dr Beverley Sanders
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