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Two to Tango: Why Both Partners Need a Fertility Workup

June 27, 2013

When a couple realizes they are having trouble trying to conceive or things just aren’t working as quickly as they had imagined, a woman typically consults her OB-GYN who either diagnoses and treats the infertility condition or refers her to a fertility doctor. Too often, women (through no fault of their own) are prescribed Clomid or another treatment for female factor infertility yet their partner has not tested his fertility. Now, you don't have to be a doctor or know much about fertility to raise a little red flag and question: “What if her partner also has infertility?”

Without a semen analysis, there is no way of knowing the male partner’s ability to impregnate. Therefore, a woman could be taking a fertility drug or receiving treatment that will not help the couple achieve a pregnancy if her partner has, for example, no measureable sperm in his semen (azoospermia).

Eugene Katz, M.D. of Shady Grove Fertility Center in Towson, Maryland believes it is equally as important to treat the male partner as it is the female partner. In fact, obtaining a semen sample is so non-invasive and cost effective when diagnosing a couple, it should be performed routinely. “Society has always blamed women for infertility so men are reluctant to be tested. Being perceived as infertile somehow makes them feel less manly, but the truth is one-third of infertility is due to male factor, one-third female factor, and one-third unexplained. Male fertility tests are inexpensive, quick, and easy to do. It just makes sense to test the male first. Treating a woman without testing the male is a disservice. It takes two to tango,” Katz explains.

Once the test results for both partners are obtained, a fertility doctor can devise a treatment plan that is tailored to the couple’s specific needs. If sperm count falls within normal range, intrauterine insemination (IUI) may be a viable treatment option. For others, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) are two treatment considerations which address male factor infertility and assist in fertilization.

If male factor infertility is suspected (due to family history, injury, or vasectomy for example), some couples may think to first consult a urologist, which may very well be the only treatment needed, but especially for a woman who is above the age of 35 or has never been pregnant, it is in the couple’s best interest to go straight to the fertility clinic. “Female age is important. Even if a man receives treatment with a urologist, it takes 70 to 80 days to make new sperm. By the time a woman reaches her late 30s and 40s, the chance of conceiving is significantly decreased so that couple may not have time to delay,” Katz says.

When it comes to conceiving, time is of the essence. Dr. Katz advises patients to look at the fertility evaluation as a proactive and educational experience. No commitment is required to pursue fertility treatment, and very few patients actually require IVF to conceive. By understanding your chances for conception as a couple, you can make informed decisions regarding your treatment as an integral part of the fertility treatment team.

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