Experts in fertility treatment, reproductive endocrinologists gauge external symptoms and personalized testing, to not only diagnose but treat the root cause of infertility in both men and women. About 9% of men and 11% of women face issues with infertility, and reproductive endocrinologists work one on one with patients to achieve their interconnected fertility and health goals. Reproductive endocrinology is a specialized field of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the study of the entire female reproductive system as well as the small but vital glands that regulate reproductive processes throughout the body.
Reproductive endocrinologists are thoroughly trained medical professionals, requiring 8 years of higher education (college and medical school), 4 years of hospital residency, OB/GYN certification (written and oral exam), 3 years of fellowship training, and an exhaustive REI (Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility) written and oral exam before officially becoming reproductive endocrinologists.
What is endocrinology?
Throughout the body, there are small organs called glands that produce and release different hormones. This includes the thyroid gland, which regulates energy and whole-body metabolism, and the pituitary gland and gonads (ovaries in women) which work in tandem to cause everything from puberty, to ovulation, to pregnancy. Glands throughout the body are in constant communication, regulating everything from sleep to metabolism and responding to different needs. Endocrinology is the study of glands, sometimes specific glands and when they produce certain hormones, sometimes the endocrine system as a whole. Reproductive endocrinology focuses on the reproductive glands and their involvement in fertility.
What are reproductive glands?
The two main glands involved in reproduction are called gonads; the ovaries in women and the testicles in men. Other glands are also at play, such as the thyroid, which plays a significant role in the health of the female reproductive system, and the pituitary gland in the brain that helps regulate the ovary. An issue involving any of these glands or the surrounding organs can result in difficulty conceiving or carrying a child to term.
What does a reproductive endocrinologist do?
In a fertility clinic or specialized reproductive care facility, a reproductive endocrinologist works with people individually to identify and treat infertility. It is recommended for individuals under 35 to try to conceive for at least 1 year, and those 35 and older to try for at least 6 months before visiting a reproductive endocrinologist. However, it is recommended to see a reproductive endocrinologist sooner for certain circumstances, such as irregular or absent periods, known fertility issue, or family planning.
To begin, a reproductive endocrinologist will meet with you to discuss your goals, medical history, and where you are in your journey of having a child. The next step is diagnosis: determining the cause of the issue via tests and screenings including ultrasounds, X-rays, and the testing of blood or semen samples.
Common infertility problems in women:
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Age related fertility decline
Scarring from prior surgeries or infections
Endometriosis or inflammation
Side effects from medications
Common infertility problems in men:
Low sperm count or motility
Problems with sperm health
Hypogonadism (low testosterone)
Damage to testicles
Side effects from medications
After diagnosis, the reproductive endocrinologist will discuss different options with you for conceiving and carrying a child. Certain infertility issues, such as PCOS, can have simple solutions that lead to increased chances of conception. Others, such as thyroid disease and low sperm count, may be treatable with medication and lifestyle changes. Still others, such as varicoceles or uterine fibroids, may require a surgical solution. If an infertility problem cannot be treated directly, you may be able to conceive via in vitro fertilization or intrauterine insemination.
A reproductive endocrinologist is a partner to couples and individuals looking to conceive and carry a child. They work with patients individually throughout the whole process, from diagnosis to making plans to finally having a child.
Are you in Washington? Find a reproductive endocrinologist near you.