When to Talk to Your Doctor About Infertility

Couples who do not conceive after 12 months of trying may want to discuss any fertility issues they may have with their doctor. In fact, fertility discussions are a good idea even before you get pregnant.

Whether you’re married and trying, coupled but not yet ready, or single and waiting to meet the right partner, the best time to talk to your doctor about infertility is the day you know you might want to have kids—regardless of how old you are. Infertility can be a struggle, but the doctors at Henry Mayo are here to support you.

Infertility Is More Common Than You Think

If you’re not getting pregnant or you’ve struggled with repeated miscarriages, you are not alone. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12% of women have trouble getting or staying pregnant. Also, keep in mind that 33% of infertility cases involve problems with a man’s sperm. So if you are talking to an OB-GYN about infertility, your partner may also want to see a urologist.

Common Causes of Female Infertility

Sometimes the cause of infertility is unknown. But the most common cause in women is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that causes women to ovulate irregularly or not at all. Other causes include:

  • Diminished ovarian reserve: when you have fewer eggs than you should for your age
  • Endometriosis
  • Fallopian tube obstruction
  • Fibroids
  • Functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA, when you stop getting your period due to too much exercise, stress, or weight loss
  • Hypothalamus and pituitary gland problems
  • Premature menopause
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Infertility may also decline due to:

  • Age
  • Chronic diseases like diabetes, celiac disease, hypothyroidism, and lupus
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Excessive physical or emotional stress
  • Extreme weight gain or loss
  • Smoking

Signs of Possible Infertility

Most often, you will not experience any signs of infertility until you start trying to get pregnant. However, if you experience any the following symptoms, visit your doctor:

  • Endometriosis
  • Irregular periods
  • Miscarriage
  • No menstruation
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Very painful periods

If your male partner has a history of chemotherapy, hernia surgery, testicular trauma, or infertility with a past partner, he should also schedule an appointment with a doctor.

Infertility Prevention

Here are a few things that could help your chances of conceiving:

  • Avoid alcohol, drugs, and tobacco
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains
  • Keep your vaccines up to date
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stay away from toxic chemicals, especially in the workplace
  • Take folic acid daily
  • Talk to your doctor about whether any medications you are on could cause birth defects or make it harder for you to get pregnant

Have an honest conversation with immediate family members to find out if anyone has a history of infertility or frequent miscarriages. PCOS, for example, is often passed from mother to daughter.

How Infertility Is Diagnosed

Your doctor will first start with a complete medical history and basic physical exam, order blood work to test your hormonal levels, and possibly run tests to rule out STIs.

A transvaginal ultrasound can determine the size of your egg reserve and whether there are other problems, such as fibroids. An X-ray with contrast can determine if you have a blockage in your fallopian tubes. A laparoscopy can also give your doctor a better look at your uterus and fallopian tubes.

IVF and Beyond

Now more than ever, there are options for women and couples struggling with infertility. Some causes of infertility can be treated with a simple medical procedure or minor surgery. Other fertility treatment options include:

  • Intrauterine insemination (IUI): when healthy sperm is inserted into the uterus at ovulation, usually after a woman has taken medication, to increase the number of eggs likely to be ovulated
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF): when eggs are removed after ovary-stimulating medication and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory. Once an embryo grows successfully, it is then reimplanted into the uterus.
  • Third-party-assisted reproductive treatment: use of egg donors, sperm donors, embryo donors, or surrogates who carry the baby for you