Monday, 29 October, 2007

Fertility Tests

The laparoscopy is a common outpatient surgical procedure that allows the physician to view reproductive organs such as the tubes, ovary, and uterus, and diagnose conditions causing infertility including endometriosis and tubal blockage(see picture). The laparoscope is a small "telescope like" instrument that is placed through a small incision in the abdomen, usually at the belly button(see picture). Small operative tools are inserted through another small incision at the pubic hairline. The laparoscope usually does not produce noticeable scarring. The abdomen is filled with gas causing it to expand making the internal organs more accessible. Reproductive surgeons undergo extensive advanced microsurgical training with the laparoscope. They are able to perform many, if not most, fertility operations using the laparoscope, which dramatically reduces recovery time, pain cost, and adhesions/scarring. Fertility specialists will usually treat conditions such as endometriosis during the diagnostic laparoscopy. This is one reason that a specialist should perform the laparoscopy when infertility is suspected.

The hysteroscopy is an important tool in the study of infertility, recurrent miscarriage, or abnormal uterine bleeding. Diagnostic hysteroscopy is used to examine the inside of the uterus, also known as the uterine cavity, and is helpful in diagnosing abnormal uterine conditions such as internal fibroids, scarring, polyps, and congenital malformations(see picture). A hysterosalpingogram (an x-ray of the uterus and fallopian tubes) or an endometrial biopsy may be performed before or after a diagnostic hysteroscopy. The first step of diagnostic hysteroscopy involves slightly stretching the canal of the cervix with a series of dilators. Once the cervix is dilated, the hysteroscope, a narrow lighted viewing instrument, similar to but smaller than the laparoscope, is inserted through the cervix and into the lower end of the uterus(see picture). Carbon dioxide gas or special clear solutions like normal saline or glycine are then injected into the uterus through the hysteroscope. This gas or solution expands the uterine cavity, clears blood and mucus away, and enables the physician to directly view the internal structure of the uterus. Diagnostic hysteroscopy is usually conducted at Rotunda under propofol anesthesia. Diagnostic hysteroscopy is usually performed soon after menstruation because the uterine cavity is more easily evaluated and there is no risk of interrupting a pregnancy. A mock transfer or trial transfer may also be done at this time.

Ultrasound measurements have many applications in the infertility evaluation and are also used for monitoring during in vitro fertilization stimulation cycles. The transvaginal ultrasound (through the vagina) is used frequently because it allows the physician to view the ovaries, uterus, and many other internal organs. The ultrasound produces images similar to an x-ray; however, sound waves are used instead of radiation. Many times dense structures, such as uterine fibroids, are clearly visible on transvaginal ultrasound. The ultrasound is also able to show the follicles on the ovaries as they develop and are ovulated(see picture). The fertility specialist must know the number and size of the follicles during drug-stimulated IVF cycles as this information helps in adjusting medication dosages. Ultrasound is used to measure the width of the endometrium, which must thicken and become more vascular to accept a developing embryo(see picture). It is also used as a means to document pregnancy by visualizing the fetal heartbeat.

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