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Diagnosis of Infertility

What You Need To Know About Infertility Diagnosis


Updated May 20, 2014

Obstetrician talking with patient and husband
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When is a diagnosis of infertility given?

A diagnosis of infertility is usually given when a couple, after a year of trying to conceive, does not become pregnant.

Another kind of infertility is secondary infertility. Secondary infertility is diagnosed when a couple who has successfully carried to term a pregnancy previously, but now, when trying again, is not able to get pregnant after a year of trying. Also, a couple who suffers from recurrent miscarriages (usually after three successive losses) is also given a diagnosis of infertility.

Is the year wait necessary for an infertility diagnosis?

“Try for a year, and afterwards, come back if you’re not pregnant,” is the most common answer given to couples who are trying to conceive, especially those under the age of 35. But a year is a long time to wait. Do you have to try for a year before seeking help?

Not always.

  • Look for risk factors or red flags: One way to speed up the process of receiving a diagnosis is to be on the lookout for any risk factors or red flags that may point to an infertility problem. There is no reason to wait an entire year if there are warning signs, symptoms, or past health problems.

  • Consider charting: Another way to speed up diagnosis is to consider charting your cycles. Charting your cycles involves, at the most basic level, recording your morning temperature, and watching for specific patterns within your cycle.

    If you’ve been charting your cycles for six months, and can document to your doctor that you’ve had sexual intercourse around the time of ovulation those six months, and still are not pregnant, they may be more likely to run some tests before your “year” of waiting is up.

  • If you're 35 or older, don't wait more than six months: If you’re over the age of 35, you shouldn’t wait any longer than six months before seeing a doctor. Because your fertility naturally decreases as you age (starting at the age of 25 for men, and at age 30 in women), time is of the essence once you pass age 35.

Who makes the infertility diagnosis?

Usually, your regular gynecologist will make the first diagnosis of infertility. However, that’s not always the case. An endocrinologist or your regular family doctor may alert you to the possibility of fertility problems, if you have health problems that can lead to infertility, like thyroid issues, diabetes, or PCOS.

After the initial diagnosis of infertility, your regular gynecologist may treat you, or you may be referred to a reproductive endocrinologist. Reproductive endocrinologists (RE) specialize in treating infertility in couples.

What causes infertility?

A diagnosis of infertility often comes in two stages, the first stage being the general infertility diagnosis, and the second stage being a diagnosis of the specific cause of the infertility. Infertility is almost a symptom itself. To treat infertility in the best possible way, finding the cause is helpful.

According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, one-third of infertility cases are caused by a problem on the woman’s side, one-third are from the man’s side, and the remaining third involve problems on both sides, or unexplained causes. In fact, in 20% of infertility cases, the cause for the infertility remains unknown.

Two of the most common causes of female factor infertility include:

More about causes of female infertility:

The two most common causes of male factor infertility include:

  • Low Sperm Production: Medically referred to as azoospermia (complete lack of sperm cells) or oligospermia (few sperm cell are produced), this is the most common cause of male factor infertility.

  • Sperm Malformations: Even if the amount of sperm is within the normal range, malformed sperm, as well as the ability of the sperm to make it to the egg before dying, can be a cause of infertility.

More about male infertility:

Whatever the cause is for your infertility, you should know there is reason for hope. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, 85% to 90% of infertility cases can be treated using conventional treatments, like medication or surgical repair. Less than 3% of infertility patients require advanced treatments, like in vitro fertilization.

More on getting pregnant with infertility:

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Who's Infertile? Us?. American Fertility Association. Accessed January 21, 2008. http://www.theafa.org/conceive/whosinfertile.html

Frequently Asked Questions About Infertility. American Society of Reproductive Medicine. Accessed January 21, 2008. http://asrm.org/awards/index.aspx?id=3012

Changes to Diet and Lifestyle May Help Prevent Infertility from Ovulatory Disorders. Harvard School of Public Health, Press Release. Accessed January 21, 2008. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/2007-releases/press10312007.html

General Infertility FAQ. InterNational Council on Infertility Information Dissemination. Accessed January 21, 2008. http://www.inciid.org/faq.php?cat=infertility101&id=1

Weschler, T. (2002). Taking Charge of Your Fertility (Revised Edition). United States of America: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

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