For people having trouble conceiving, seeing a specialist can make a difference. A reproductive endocrinologist (REI) is a doctor who specializes in treating infertility. Here’s how to know if, and when, you may need one.
If you and your partner are having trouble conceiving, you’re not alone.
15-20% of couples deal with infertility, and there are a number of treatment options available to you. Reproductive endocrinologists are a great resource for exploring these options and determining what you need. A reproductive endocrinologist (REI) is a doctor who specializes in treating infertility. Here’s how to know if, and when, you may need one. What it is How REIs help When to see an REI How to find an REI
What is a reproductive endocrinologist?
Reproductive endocrinologists, or REIs for short, are OB/GYN physicians and fertility specialists. These professionals specialize in treating infertility.
>>MORE: What Are My Infertility Treatment Options?
Think of your reproductive endocrinologist as a guide on your fertility journey. They can help find the cause of your fertility issues and establish a treatment plan.
With the help of a reproductive endocrinologist, many couples struggling to conceive are able to have a successful pregnancy.
Reproductive endocrinologist vs. OB/GYN
Both reproductive endocrinologists and OB/GYNs focus on reproductive health, yet a REI focuses specifically on fertility. While an OB/GYN is a good person to discuss fertility with, they may refer you to a reproductive endocrinologist as a specialist to help you with treatment. The two professions aren’t necessarily different in focus, but rather in depth. Reproductive endocrinology is typically considered a subset of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
How does someone become a reproductive endocrinologist?
It takes some time to become a reproductive endocrinologist. These doctors must first complete the full OB/GYN residency and become board certified through the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Then, they go through an additional three years of specialized training with a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. A second round of board certification as a reproductive endocrinologist makes things official.
How can a reproductive endocrinologist help?
Reproductive endocrinologists have many different ways to help treat
infertility in people who are trying to conceive. Initial visits
First, reproductive endocrinologists will go over your medical history and conduct tests to determine the cause of your fertility issues. It’s useful for your chosen reproductive endocrinologist to have access to your medical records in advance. This can help you save time and money.
Topics you and your partner can expect to discuss with your reproductive endocrinologist during your initial visits include:
Frequency and regularity of your period Previous methods of contraception Previous miscarriages Sexual and reproductive histories Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse How long you have been trying to conceive
Your reproductive endocrinologist will run a number of tests to determine the cause (or causes) of your fertility issues.
Monitor your menstrual cycle Check and monitor your hormone levels using blood and urine samples Order x-rays of your fallopian tubes and uterus
These tests can help get to the bottom of what is causing your trouble getting pregnant. For example, if they notice abnormal hormone levels in your blood or urine tests they may suspect problems with ovulation.
X-rays help identify fertility issues caused by blocked, scarred, or damaged fallopian tubes, and/or by uterine abnormalities such as scar tissue, fibroids, or polyps. X-rays like hysterosalpingograms (HSG) or sonohysterograms (SHG) help doctors visualize these concerns.
It’s possible that your difficulties conceiving are due to a combination of factors. For at least 25% of couples experiencing infertility, there is more than one contributing factor.
Depending on your case, there are a number of different treatment options that your reproductive endocrinologist may suggest.
Your reproductive endocrinologist might recommend different fertility drugs to help with issues such as abnormal hormone levels.
Ovulation simulation is one common form of treatment. This option uses oral medication to help your ovaries release eggs. Ovulation simulation can be recommended if your ovulation is irregular, or if you don’t ovulate at all.
>>RELATED: 8 Signs Your Hormones May Be Out of Balance – And What to Do Next. Surgical procedures
X-rays may reveal abnormalities in your fallopian tubes, such as blocked, scarred, or damaged tubes. They may also show uterine abnormalities like scar tissue, fibroids, or polyps.
If this is the case, your reproductive endocrinologist may suggest surgical procedures. Certain procedures aim to repair your fallopian tubes. Others remove polyps, fibroids, and cysts from your uterus. Surgery can also help treat endometriosis.
Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)
Your reproductive endocrinologist may recommend different
assisted reproductive technologies (ART) for you and your partner to try.
These treatment options include:
Intrauterine insemination (IUI): sperm are injected directly into the uterus. This process can be done using sperm from a partner or donor sperm. In vitro fertilization (IVF): sperm are injected directly into an egg, outside the body, in a lab. Then the fertilized embryo is transferred to the uterus. This process can use eggs and sperm from you and your partner. It can also use donor eggs, donor sperm, and/or donor embryos, and can involve a surrogate who carries the pregnancy. When should a woman see a reproductive endocrinologist?
it’s recommended that you see a reproductive endocrinologist after one year of trying to conceive. If you’re 35 and older, you may want to see a reproductive endocrinologist after six months of trying. >>MORE: What to Know If You're Trying to Conceive After 35
However, if you have a history of certain conditions, your timeline may look different. You may consider making an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist sooner if you have any of the following concerns or diagnoses:
Painful periods, irregular periods, or absent periods (this can be a sign of abnormal hormone levels or problems with ovulation). Recurrent pregnancy loss. Endometriosis. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which can lead to issues with hormones and ovulation. It’s also one of the most common causes of female infertility. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause scarring in the fallopian tubes, which can complicate ovulation and egg fertilization. A history of chemotherapy and/or radiation. These treatments can lower your ovarian reserve, which can lead to difficulty conceiving. How do you find a reproductive endocrinologist?
There are many qualified reproductive endocrinologists to choose from. The best doctor for you depends on different factors for each person.
Ask yourself: Are you comfortable with this doctor? Dealing with infertility can be a stressful and emotionally exhausting experience for couples. It’s important that you feel supported by your reproductive endocrinologist, both physically and emotionally. You should find a doctor who helps you feel safe bringing up any concerns and asking any questions.
It’s also important to consider logistical factors like location. You’ll likely have multiple visits with your reproductive endocrinologist, so finding a doctor nearby is useful.
Things like appointment fees and treatment cost will play into your decision, as well. Contacting your insurance provider for information about treatment coverage can help you figure out the best fit.
Don’t be afraid to speak openly about your budget. Feel free to shop around, too. It may be helpful to compare costs at different practices.
>>MORE: Infertility is Expensive. Here Are 7 Ways To Save Money When Trying to Conceive. How to find a reproductive endocrinologist
Here are some online tools you can use to locate reproductive endocrinologists in your area:
For people having trouble conceiving, seeing a specialist can make a difference. Reproductive endocrinologists are experts in infertility. They will determine the factors behind your fertility issues, and figure out how to treat them.
With their help, you and your partner can increase your chances of a successful pregnancy.