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Why Both Partners Should Be Diagnosed for Infertility

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Why Both Partners Should Be Diagnosed for Infertility

May 05, 2022

When it comes to treating infertility in the United States, it’s often the female partner who receives diagnosis and treatment. Yet, according to male fertility specialist Kelli Gross, MD, as many as 40% of causes of infertility lie with the male partner. Learn why it’s more successful and economical to approach infertility as a couple.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: When it comes to issues of infertility, it's important that both members of the couple are involved in the diagnosis and treatment of the issue.

To find out why that is, we're joined by Dr. Kelli Gross, a men's health specialist and assistant professor in urology at University of Utah Health.

Now, Dr. Gross, why is it so important that both partners are involved when we're trying to, say, diagnose why a couple can't get pregnant?

Dr. Gross: It's incredibly common that men come to see me and they've never been considered at all in their fertility workup. We find that up to about 40% of the time, there is what we call male-factor infertility or an abnormality in fertility in the male partner. So it can be greatly underdiagnosed.

With all of the technology that we have in fertility, things like in vitro fertilization can make it so that optimizing the male partner is not as essential as it once was. But it can be a lot more expensive and have its own set of downsides.

Interviewer: So when you say that it's 40% of the time, does that mean that it is often misdiagnosed, or do we often deal with the female issues more often?

Dr. Gross: It wouldn't necessarily be that it's misdiagnosed, more that it's ignored. With couples, they may be experiencing infertility without having any major health issues or causes. It can be both sides things are a little bit abnormal. So having things that are less than optimal in one partner can still lead to issues, but sometimes we just get around these by other sorts of things.

Interviewer: And what kind of things are those?

Dr. Gross: So it would be things like intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization. So what that is, for intrauterine insemination, is we put the sperm directly into the uterus. So it bypasses some abnormalities if there are low counts in the sperm or if there are issues on the female side.

We can also do things like in vitro fertilization, which is where the egg and the sperm are joined outside of the body. And that can, likewise, overcome a lot of issues on both sides, such as having very low sperm counts or issues from a female partner side.

Interviewer: So if a couple is trying to identify what is causing their infertility, why is it more economical to have both partners involved from the start?

Dr. Gross: So there are things that we can improve from a male side that can make it easier to get pregnant either naturally or with help. So, for example, there are certain procedures that we do that can improve sperm counts in certain men.

So if we have somebody who has very low sperm counts, then doing something like that where they previously would not be a candidate for something like intrauterine insemination, which takes a certain amount of sperm, by raising those counts, we then make them a candidate for that, or they are able to get pregnant naturally because the sperm counts are higher. So they can save a lot of money from the cost of, for example, in vitro fertilization.

Interviewer: We spoke about why it's so important to have both partners involved in diagnosing and treating infertility. How long should a couple be trying before they technically are dealing with infertility issues, or when should they start to see a specialist?

Dr. Gross: So we usually define infertility as trying for one year. And that's kind of just because 90% of couples will get pregnant within one year.

It's kind of arbitrary. So, for example, if you've been in a long-distance relationship and you haven't been having intercourse, of course, a year may not mean that there's anything wrong biologically. And at the same time, if there's any sort of history or medical concerns that make you seek treatment earlier, there's nothing wrong with that at all. We don't say, "Keep trying," necessarily. We would typically evaluate to see if there was anything that we can improve, no matter what time it is.