The Medical Minute: What a fertility specialist can do for you
Births are miracles of synchronicity. Every step must happen correctly for pregnancy to occur. Fertility specialists help keep the trains running on time.
Couples often turn to a specialist when they haven’t conceived after trying for 12 months. Women also reach out when they want to achieve a pregnancy but have potential barriers, such as irregular or lack of a menstrual period, pre-existing gynecologic disorders, or if they have been trying for at least six months without success and they are over the age of 35.
Dr. Samantha Butts, a reproductive endocrinologist and chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Penn State Health, also cares for patients who hope to start a family without partners, LGBTQ individuals looking to build a family and others who have questions or concerns about fertility preservation.
“We often work with women who want to freeze eggs because they want to pursue fertility in the future. In addition, some females and males may have medical diagnoses that present risks to their ability to have children in the future, including those with a cancer diagnosis who have received life-saving chemotherapy or radiation therapy,” Butts said. “There are also common gynecologic conditions that can impact fertility, such as endometriosis, fibroids and history of ectopic pregnancy, that we can provide timely consultation about to help individuals optimize their chances of successful pregnancy.”
Whatever your reason, once you’ve decided to approach a specialist for help, choosing the right one includes looking at the type of services they offer, their qualifications and experience, as well as determining your personal comfort level with the practice.
“It is important for patients to consider subspecialty fellowship training experience and subspecialty board certification through the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology,” Butts said. “These represent important standards that distinguish physicians who meet the highest levels of training and expertise.”
During your initial consultation, you’ll talk with the reproductive endocrinologist about your and your partner’s medical histories and any previous testing, recommended testing and possible treatment options.
“Our goal is to explain all the testing and treatments fully so that patients can understand what is happening during the process.” Butts said. “We also have many telehealth options for visits to make the process easier and more accessible for patients.”
Fertility specialists try to individualize treatment. Gathering all the facts can take time, but it’s necessary to provide a treatment plan that can be successful, Butts said.
“We dedicate time to educating patients about the treatments they will need to make sure they feel comfortable,” she said. “There is no one-size-fits-all way to predict success of treatments and it depends heavily on the nature of what is causing the infertility.”
Fortunately, the reproductive research of leading investigators at Penn State Health and many other academic programs has led to improvement in protocols and techniques that continue to improve the chances for successful outcomes using treatments, such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization (IVF), donor egg, egg freezing and donor sperm.
“The bottom line is understanding that fertility problems can occur in people of all genders, have multiple causes and may have no symptoms,” Butts said. “That is why we encourage anyone with concerns to take the first step and schedule a timely consultation with a fertility specialist.”
The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health. Articles feature the expertise of faculty, physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.
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