Before undergoing infertility testing, be aware that a certain amount of commitment is required. Your doctor or clinic will need to determine what your sexual habits are and may make recommendations about how you may need to change those habits. The tests and periods of trial and error may extend over several months. In about one-third of infertile couples, no specific cause is found (unexplained infertility).
Evaluation is expensive and in some cases involves uncomfortable procedures, and the expenses may not be reimbursed by many medical plans. Finally, there's no guarantee — even after all the testing and counseling — that conception will occur.
Tests for men
For a man to be fertile, the testicles must produce enough healthy sperm, and the sperm must be ejaculated effectively into the woman's vagina. Tests for male infertility attempt to determine whether any of these processes are impaired.
• General physical examination. This includes examination of your genitals and questions concerning your medical history, illnesses and disabilities, medications, and sexual habits.
• Semen analysis. This is a very important test for the male partner. Your doctor may ask for one or more semen specimens. Semen is generally obtained by masturbating or by interrupting intercourse and ejaculating your semen into a clean container. A laboratory analyzes your semen specimen for quantity, color, and presence of infections or blood.
• Hormone testing. A blood test to determine the level of testosterone and other male hormones is common.
• Transrectal and scrotal ultrasound. Ultrasound can help your doctor look for evidence of conditions such as retrograde ejaculation and ejaculatory duct obstruction.
Tests for women
For a woman to be fertile, the ovaries must release healthy eggs regularly, and her reproductive tract must allow the eggs and sperm to pass into her fallopian tubes to become fertilized by a sperm. Her reproductive organs must be healthy and functional.
After your doctor asks questions regarding your health history, menstrual cycle and sexual habits, you'll undergo a general physical examination. This includes a regular gynecological examination. Specific fertility tests may include:
• Ovulation testing. A blood test is sometimes performed to measure hormone levels to determine whether you are ovulating.
• Hysterosalpingography. This test evaluates the condition of your uterus and fallopian tubes. Fluid is injected into your uterus, and an X-ray is taken to determine if the cavity is normal and ensure the fluid progresses through your fallopian tubes. Blockage or problems often can be located and may be corrected with surgery.
• Laparoscopy. Performed under general anesthesia, this procedure involves making a small incision (8 to 10 millimeters) beneath your navel and inserting a thin viewing device to examine your fallopian tubes, ovaries and uterus.
The most common problems identified by laparoscopy are endometriosis and scarring. Your doctor can also detect blockages or irregularities of the fallopian tubes and uterus. Laparoscopy generally is done on an outpatient basis.
• Hormone testing. Hormone tests may be done to check levels of ovulatory hormones as well as thyroid and pituitary hormones.
• Ovarian reserve testing. Testing may be done to determine the potential effectiveness of the eggs after ovulation. This approach often begins with hormone testing early in a woman's menstrual cycle.
• Genetic testing. Genetic testing may be done to determine whether there's a genetic defect causing infertility.
• Pelvic ultrasound. Pelvic ultrasound may be done to look for uterine or fallopian tube disease.
Not everyone needs to undergo all, or even many, of these tests before the cause of infertility is found. Which tests are used and their sequence depend on discussion and agreement between you and your doctor