If you are having difficulty conceiving, your first thought is probably to go to your GP to ask for more information about your fertility and what help is available when things are not working out. What should you ask your GP for though? This article forms part of our conversation on The Fertility Podcast and covers all the things which we hope you feel confident to talk to your GP about and what to expect.
How long should it be before you decide to ask for help?
Despite being in a pandemic and feeling more reluctant to go to your GP, fertility is not something to hold back on. It is important to know what is going on if you are struggling to conceive.
If you’ve been trying for a couple of months, there’s no reason why you can’t pop along to your GP, or in COVID times, ask for a telephone consultation. Your GP may suggest some blood tests and even that first step can help move you forward in your fertility journey.
To get a referral to the fertility specialist however, that works a little differently. If you are below 35, you have to have been trying for 12 months and if you are over 35, the time frame for being referred is 6 months.
What should you ask?
It is understandable that you would feel anxious about speaking to a doctor. It feels overwhelming and with the short consultation times that GPs have available, sometimes your words get jumbled or you miss something out. Try writing down everything you want to talk about, so you have something to refer to.
For women, your GP may suggest some blood tests and even that first step can help move you forward in your fertility journey. This should include a full hormone profile, checking thyroid levels, vitamin D levels, and possibly prolactin levels. These are basic tests which would flag up any immediate concerns. These tests can be done at any time, but the full hormone profile, needs to be done on days 1 to 3 in your cycle. You could also ask for a progesterone test, often referred to as a 21-day test in terms of your cycle, but if you have a longer or shorter cycle than 28 days, this test should be 7 days before your next period.
For men, you can ask for a sperm test. Sometimes GP’s may base this on how long you have been trying for, but it is completely reasonable to ask.
If anything in the blood or sperm tests is showing to be a concern, you are already a step forward in your fertility journey.
How long does it take to receive test results?
Result times can vary depending on the GP practice and the laboratories they work with. Typically, it should only be a few days. For blood tests, home testing is also an option. You can do home sperm tests if you prefer, but as these are unable to test for all parameters it is worth getting an NHS sperm test at some point.
What could your test results show?
Hopefully your tests will come back completely normal.
Things to watch out for though include irregularities in your hormone profile, your thyroid, and your progesterone levels. If the progesterone test is done at the wrong time, this can return an abnormal result. With any test that shows irregularities, it is worth getting it rechecked after a few weeks. If you have been unwell recently, that can also affect results such as thyroid levels, so it is important to get results double-checked.
What other factors can come into conversation with the GP?
When you are having that initial discussion with your GP, it may bring up other factors that influence your fertility, such as weight. If you are underweight or overweight, be prepared for your doctor to bring it up in conversation. Ideally, having a healthy BMI is likely to improve fertility, decrease risk of miscarriage and problems during birth, as well as the baby’s health. Your GP can offer you support on how to gain or lose weight if needed.
Home testing and next steps
If you are interested in investigating your fertility you may choose to look at home testing. This then gives you the option of going to your GP with more questions about the next steps such as investigations, treatments, and referrals. Previously on the podcast, we spoke to Helen from Hertility Health about home testing and how they have identified nine reproductive concerns that women have, including Endometriosis and PCOS, and how to raise your concerns with your GP based on your understanding of your test results. It is important to feel empowered with this information and ask for what you want. We often hear that women feel that they’re concerns are dismissed and told they don’t need to worry yet. Don’t be frightened to be persistent if you need to.
That first trip to the GP to discuss your fertility may seem nerve-wracking, but have those notes with you, be prepared, know what you want to ask for, and feel empowered.