If you are struggling to conceive, you’ll turn to your doctor for help. This is a chance to determine if there is a medical reason for your infertility or not. Your doctor will run a series of preconception tests to help determine why you’re struggling to conceive. By knowing the reason, your doctor can offer advice to help improve your chances in the future.
Some of the tests involve blood work and can be done in the doctor’s office. Other tests will require a trip to the hospital or you will need to see a specialist.
The more you know about preconception tests the better. You’ll understand more of what to expect at the doctor’s office and how they will help you conceive.
Blood Tests for Medical Problems
One of the first things your doctor will do is run blood tests. These help to determine if there are viral or bacterial reasons for not getting pregnant. The tests can also help determine your immunity to certain diseases to help make sure your baby will remain safe during pregnancy.
Your doctor will want to check for any STIs. These can include Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. All of these conditions can lead to infertility in women. If left untreated, some can cause other major health problems and be fatal.
Your doctor may also want to run a test for HIV if there’s belief you’ve been at risk. HIV can be (although not always) transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy and delivery. If you’re already taking HIV medications, the risk of passing on the virus is less than 2%, but your doctor will want to discuss those risks and talk about other options for having a baby.
The blood tests can also tell doctors if you have anemia or hepatitis. Anemia can cause some health problems during pregnancy and include symptoms of fatigue and cognitive problems due to the lack of red blood cells passing around the body. Hepatitis is a liver infection that your baby can develop.
Some blood tests can be carried out preconception. If they’re not, they will likely be carried out during pregnancy. A test for rubella is one of those. Your doctor will want to test if you have immunity against rubella, which is gained through a vaccine. The disease is also known as German measles. If you’ve had it in the past, you will already have immunity but it can also make women infertile. The disease can also harm your baby if you catch it during pregnancy.
The blood tests can also help to determine if you have a thyroid issue or other hormonal imbalance. Hormonal problems can lead to irregular cycles, which can cause temporary infertility. Your doctor will help balance out your hormones with medications, so you can go back to a normal cycle and increase the chances of pregnancy.
Tests for the Silent STIs
Some sexually transmitted infections are “silent.” This means they have no symptoms and you can go months and even years without realizing you have them. In some cases, you can live most of your life without realizing, until they advance and cause problems for your health.
One of the most common STIs that is silent and leads to infertility issues in women is a pelvic inflammatory disease. This causes the fallopian tubes, uterus, and other parts around the pelvic area to inflame, making it harder for the eggs to release down the tube and implant within the uterus lining. They can also prevent the sperm reaching the eggs for fertilization.
It’s important to be open with your doctor about your previous sexual history. If your partner has been unfaithful, you should also discuss this. There is nothing to be ashamed about getting an STI. The best thing to do is to get treated and increase the chances of getting pregnant.
Discussing Previous Pregnancies and History
Your doctor will want to know about any previous pregnancies that you’ve had as part of the preconception tests. One of the questions will be about any ectopic pregnancies. Previous ectopic pregnancies can lead to difficulties in getting pregnant again in the future, even if you didn’t have a fallopian tube removed.
The ectopic pregnancy can lead to inflammation within the tube, making it harder for the sperm to fertilize an egg. You may have also had one of the tubes removed, making it harder to release eggs on a normal monthly cycle.
This part of the discussions and testing will also help to keep an eye on your pregnancy. Your doctor will want to make sure a subsequent pregnancy doesn’t end up being ectopic.
Likewise, your doctor will want to discuss any previous miscarriages you’ve hard or any pregnancy complications if you already have children. These questions will include the number of miscarriages, and postnatal depression, problems during delivery, and babies with birth defects like spina bifida.
Some of the previous problems will mean different tests before and during pregnancy. Your doctor may also recommend taking more folic acid or other nutrients to support the health of your baby.
Multiple miscarriages will often prompt the next type of testing: chromosomal testing.
Making Sure There Are No Chromosomal Problems
Multiple miscarriages can be a sign of chromosomal problems. There are other signs of chromosomal problems that your doctor will discuss with you. This will usually involve getting a chromosome analysis test.
Getting a genetic mark up for yourself and your partner is another good way of finding out about any genetic or chromosome problems. Some of these issues can lead to birth defects or problems, such as colorblindness, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell disease. In other cases, they can cause multiple miscarriages and prevent conception entirely.
It is possible to have salvia and blood tests done before conception to find out if you’re at a risk of specific genetic problems. This can help determine the risk of having a baby with Down’s syndrome or something similar. Your doctor may refer you to a genetic counselor depending on results of some tests or discussions about family history.
Genetic testing is an important stage of being prepared. The tests will only tell you so much and there’s no guarantee your child will develop the genetic mutation. In some cases, your child may just become a carrier of the genetic mutation and not actually have the condition and physical symptoms.
It is possible to undergo the genetic testing during pregnancy. Down’s syndrome is one of the most routinely tested genetic disorders during pregnancy. However, having the testing done before conception will give you more options and help to make some of your decisions for you.
This is also the chance to discuss any other family history. There may be other health problems, especially infertility problems in the past. You may find out that your mom had to have surgery or use medications to help improve chances of conceiving you. There may be other genetic problems within the family, which could indicate issues with your own health.
In some cases, you’ll need to talk to your family first. Not all families will want to discuss conception issues, but the more open you are the more chance there is of your doctor helping.
Physical Tests to Check for Vaginal Health
One of the most common preconception tests is a physical exam. A gynecologist will look at the health of your vagina, cervix, and surrounding areas. The doctor is looking for any signs of vaginal infections, whether yeast or trichomoniasis. These physical exams can also help to determine if you’re at a risk of some fertility issues.
A pap smear will likely be carried out if you haven’t had one for a year. This is usually carried out to test for cervical cancer, but the smear test actually looks at abnormal cell changes within the vagina. It’s a good way to check for some STIs as well as potential cancer.
Your gynecologist will also insert fingers into the vagina to check for swelling, tenderness, or masses. They will also exam around the uterus and ovaries (from the outside) to make sure there are no masses or tenderness to be concerned about. In some cases, an ultrasound may be suggested, especially if the physical test shows some problems.
An ultrasound may show signs of ovarian cysts for example. The tests will help to determine the size, risk, and if they bode problems for getting pregnant.
The tests can also determine if there is a more serious problem preventing you from getting pregnant. Some physical tests will determine if there are lesions or fibers within your uterus or fallopian tubes. They can determine if surgery is needed or if you will need some preconception drugs to help increase the chances of getting pregnant.
Urine Tests for Infections and Health Problems
Your doctor will usually request a urine test. Get used to this for pregnancy, as you’ll need to do a urine test with each visit. The tests help to check for various health problems, including urinary tract infections.
Sugar in the urine is one of the most common reasons for checking your urine. If there is sugar in the urine, your doctor will likely go on to order a glucose tolerance test. This means you’re being checked for diabetes. It’s important to get the results and get this under control before having a baby. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to problems for your baby.
If you already have diabetes, your doctor will want to discuss any issues with the management of the condition. This helps to ensure you’re ready and your doctor knows if extra visits are required.
During pregnancy, the urine tests help to check for sugars and proteins in the urine. Evidence of either of these can link to health complications that can affect your baby.
Managing Your Menstrual Cycle and Setting Up a Calendar
One of the most common preconception tests that you can do from home is a test of your menstrual cycle. This isn’t quite a physical test and more of a way to track your cycle, know when you’re ovulating, and determine the best times to try to conceive. It’s a way to create your monthly calendar, which can be beneficial if you’ve tried for a few months with no success. This is also good if you have irregular periods.
You can use ovulation strips that are very much like pregnancy tests. You urinate on the strips over the course of a few days and the tests will check for levels of particular hormones in your urine. You’ll be alerted to when your eggs are being released, so you have a better chance of them being fertilized.
This is something you can also do through taking your body temperature. When women are ovulating, their body temperature is slightly elevated. There may be some physical symptoms but they’re not as easy to follow.
Your doctor may expect you to carry out some of these menstrual cycle tracking tests to help make sure you’re trying to conceive at the right time. If you’re still having problems or there are certain other risk factors, then another testing may be carried out.
Getting the Right Preconception Tests
Tracking your menstrual cycle and using the ovulation tests are usually the first steps to take when you’re trying to conceive. If after a year (after six months depending on age and medical health) you haven’t conceived, then you should discuss your options with your doctor. In many cases, your doctor will figure out the issue and help rectify it.
Talking to your doctor about your conception plans can also help to get other tests order. These can include looking at your overall health and looking into the genetics to see what risks there are for your baby. You don’t have to have all the tests and they’re not all 100 % accurate. However, they are there to help you make decisions.
The best thing you can do is discuss everything with your own doctor. You can discuss your own medical conditions and get a full recommendation to suit.