Testing.com is fully supported by readers. We may earn a commission through products purchased using links on this page. You can read more about how we make money here.

Board approved icon
Medically Reviewed by Expert Board.

This page was fact checked by our expert Medical Review Board for accuracy and objectivity. Read more about our editorial policy and review process.

This article was last modified on
Learn more about...
  • Discreet Packaging

    Free next day shipping and confidential results in 2-5 days

  • Trustworthy Medical Support

    Real-time support services from our national network of physicians and nurses

  • Health Records You Control

    Privacy at your fingertips, integrated with your choice of apps and wearables

What Is Fertility?

Fertility is the ability to conceive and produce a child. Pregnancy begins with the fertilization of an egg by a sperm cell, but there are several steps that male and female bodies must go through for a healthy pregnancy to be possible. Some of the steps include:

  1. Hormones trigger an ovary to release one egg in a process called ovulation.
  2. A partner must produce viable and sufficient sperm.
  3. As the egg travels through a fallopian tube to the uterus, it must encounter a sperm cell to be fertilized.
  4. The fertilized egg must then get implanted in the lining of the uterus, where it can grow and develop during pregnancy.

If an egg is not fertilized in that cycle, the body sheds the egg and the lining of the uterus during menstruation.

What is infertility?

Infertility is a term that describes an inability to reproduce by natural means. It is defined as not getting pregnant after one year of sex without contraception. Infertility is often due to a problem with one or more steps in the process of becoming pregnant.

Infertility is diagnosed after a couple has tried to get pregnant for 12 months without success, or after 6 months if the woman is over age 35.

Infertility affects around 9% of men and 11% of women of reproductive age in the United States. Although a couple’s infertility can sometimes be traced back to one partner, in around one-third of couples, both partners are responsible for the infertility. In 10-20% of infertile couples, no specific cause can be found.

The Role of Fertility Testing

Fertility testing can be used to detect ovulation and/or to diagnose infertility.

Detecting ovulation

Some types of fertility testing can help women know when they’re most fertile and plan for a pregnancy. A woman is most likely to get pregnant if she has sex during a window starting five days before ovulation to around 24 hours after. This is sometimes referred to as the fertile period.

There are many methods of tracking ovulation and the menstrual cycle. Ovulation tracking can help women who are trying to become pregnant and may help some women who wish to avoid becoming pregnant. Ovulation tracking as a form of birth control is called fertility-based awareness. For most women, fertility-based awareness is around 75% effective.

Diagnosing infertility

Fertility testing can also help doctors diagnose the causes of infertility in a couple. Tests used to diagnose the causes of infertility include laboratory, imaging, and other tests that provide information about a couple’s reproductive organs and the process of becoming pregnant.

Who should get testing?

Couples who are experiencing infertility or who have underlying medical issues should speak to their physician to find out if they should get tested and which tests are indicated for their unique situation.

Fertility testing can help a couple plan for pregnancy, whether the goal is to become pregnant or to avoid pregnancy.

In addition to those already experiencing infertility, there are some risk factors to identify that may affect a couple’s fertility. An infertility evaluation may be important when the couple meets one or several of the following risk factors:

  • Women over age 40
  • Irregular or absent menstrual periods
  • Family history of early menopause or premature ovarian failure
  • History of ovarian surgery
  • Advanced stage endometriosis
  • Uterine or tubal disease
  • Exposure to cytotoxic drugs or pelvic radiation therapy
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Smoking
  • Adult mumps
  • History of testicular trauma
  • Impotence or other sexual dysfunction
  • A history of fertility issues with another partner

In women between 35 and 40 years of age without a risk factor, an infertility evaluation may be recommended after attempting to conceive for six months.

In younger couples without risk factors for infertility, experts recommend trying to conceive for a year before having an infertility evaluation. Couples in this category may benefit from tracking fertility and timing intercourse with ovulation. A physician or reproductive endocrinologist can assist couples in creating a tailored plan for fertility testing.

Getting test results

When a fertility test is prescribed by a doctor, results may be discussed during a follow-up appointment or by telephone. At that time, you will typically have an opportunity to ask questions and make sure that you understand your test results and any follow-up testing that may be necessary. Understanding the results of fertility testing can be complex, and decision-making may depend on results of more than one test.

For at-home fertility testing, results may be available immediately, over the phone, or through a website or smartphone app. When using at-home fertility testing, it’s important to discuss results with your doctor to understand what they mean for your fertility.

Types of Fertility Tests

Fertility tests can help track ovulation to aid couples in identifying the fertile period. There are several tests used to estimate when ovulation occurs:


Infertility is evaluated differently in men than in women. In order to evaluate the causes of female infertility, doctors begin by understanding a woman’s health history and performing a physical examination. Because problems with ovulation are a common cause of infertility, diagnostic tests may be recommended to ensure ovulation is occuring. There are several tests used to help doctors detect problems with ovulation:

  • Menstrual cycle charting: Tracking menstrual cycles can help doctors determine the likelihood that ovulation is occurring. Menstrual cycles that last between 25 and 35 days usually indicate healthy ovulation, while longer or shorter cycles may suggest that ovulation is not occurring correctly.
  • Basal body temperature monitoring: After ovulation, progesterone is released by the body causing an increase in body temperature. During basal body temperature monitoring, a woman takes her temperature every morning before getting out of bed.
  • Progesterone testing: Progesterone testing measures the concentration of progesterone in a blood sample and can help doctors determine if it is likely that ovulation is occurring.

An infertility evaluation may also involve testing a woman’s ovarian reserve, which refers to the quantity and quality of egg cells in the ovaries. Several tests may be performed to assess a woman’s ovarian reserve:


Doctors may order additional testing to diagnose or rule out an issue with ovulation function in women:


An infertility evaluation may also involve imaging tests to assess women for health conditions related to the fallopian tubes and/or uterus and chromosome analysis to look for chromosome abnormalities that can cause infertility.

In men, an infertility evaluation begins with understanding a man’s health history and conducting a physical examination and multiple semen analyses. Also called a sperm count, a semen analysis measures the quality and quantity of sperm in a man’s semen. Semen samples are collected for analysis after two to seven days without ejaculating.

After a semen analysis, a doctor may recommend endocrine testing that can detect conditions that cause male infertility. Endocrine testing may involve several tests:


Other laboratory tests may be ordered as needed to assess whether other conditions may be affecting fertility. In addition to laboratory testing, doctors may suggest ultrasounds of the scrotum and rectum can help doctors diagnose an obstruction in the ejaculatory duct, the pair of tubes through which semen is ejaculated into the urethra.

Genetic testing can determine potential genetic causes of infertility in men. Several types of genetic tests may be used, depending on the situation:


Getting Tested for Fertility

Working with a doctor can help you determine the most appropriate fertility tests for your situation and can ensure that you understand fertility testing, that your sample is collected properly, and that the analysis is conducted by a certified laboratory. Insurance may cover fertility testing when it is prescribed by a physician.

While primary care physicians can perform fertility testing, patients dealing with infertility concerns may also find it helpful to locate a fertility specialist or obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) who is experienced in the evaluation and treatment of infertility.

At-home testing

Many types of at-home fertility tests are available. Doctors may recommend at-home urine testing of luteinizing hormone (LH) as a quick and helpful way to track ovulation. At-home LH testing involves testing a sample of urine to detect an increase in LH that occurs prior to ovulation.

At-home fertility monitors are digital devices that predict ovulation based on electrolyte levels in saliva, LH levels in urine, or a woman’s basal body temperature. At-home fertility monitors can store information over multiple menstrual cycles to help women better predict ovulation timing and plan for pregnancy.

For women seeking to understand potential causes of infertility, at-home fertility testing kits are available that analyze samples of blood, saliva, or urine. Many at-home fertility tests attempt to give a broad picture of fertility by including multiple tests such as estradiol, LH, follicle-stimulating hormone, testosterone, and thyroid stimulating hormone.

For men, an at-home semen analysis involves collecting a sample of semen and mailing it to a laboratory for analysis. Some at-home sperm tests give men the option of storing their sperm for an additional fee.

Although at-home fertility tests can help couples plan for pregnancy, they are not a replacement for fertility testing prescribed by a doctor. Fertility testing performed by a physician may give more accurate results.

Sources and Resources

These resources provide additional information about infertility and reproductive health:


A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. Ovulation home test. Updated March 28, 2019. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007062.htm

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. Infertility. Updated March 28, 2019. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001191.htm

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. Semen analysis. Updated January 15, 2020. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003627.htm

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. Prolactin blood test. Updated August 29, 2020. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003718.htm

AHFS Patient Medication Information. Clomiphene. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Inc. Updated September 15, 2017. Accessed April 16, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682704.html

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Evaluating infertility. Updated January 2020. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/evaluating-infertility

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. How your fetus grows during pregnancy. Updated August 2020. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/how-your-fetus-grows-during-pregnancy

Anawalt BD, Page ST. Approach to the male with infertility. In: Snyder PJ, Matsumoto AM, eds. UpToDate. Updated May 13, 2019. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/approach-to-the-male-with-infertility

Anawalt BD, Page ST. Causes of male infertility. In: Matsumoto AM, ed. UpToDate. Updated September 30, 2020. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/causes-of-male-infertility

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infertility FAQs. Updated January 16, 2019. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/index.htm

Hornstein MD, Gibbons WE, Schenken RS. Optimizing natural fertility in couples planning pregnancy. In: Barbieri RL, ed. UpToDate. Updated April 6, 2021. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/optimizing-natural-fertility-in-couples-planning-pregnancy

Jennings V. Fertility awareness-based methods of pregnancy prevention. In: Schreiber CA, ed. UpToDate. Updated April 24, 2020. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/fertility-awareness-based-methods-of-pregnancy-prevention

Kuohung W, Hornstein MD. Overview of infertility. In: Barbieri RL, Levine D, eds. UpToDate. Updated November 9, 2020. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-infertility

Kuohung W, Hornstein MD. Evaluation of female infertility. In: Barbieri RL, Levine D, eds. UpToDate. Updated March 8, 2021. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/evaluation-of-female-infertility

MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. Infertility. Published January 3, 2017. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/infertility.html

MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. Y chromosome infertility. Published January 1, 2019. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/y-chromosome-infertility/

MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. Luteinizing hormone (LH) levels test. Published December 17, 2020. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/luteinizing-hormone-lh-levels-test/

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. How common is male infertility, and what are its causes? Updated December 1, 2016. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/menshealth/conditioninfo/infertility

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. How common is infertility? Updated February 8, 2018. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/infertility/conditioninfo/common

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. About infertility and fertility. Updated April 9, 2020. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/infertility/conditioninfo

Rebar RW. Overview of infertility. Merck Manuals Professional Edition. Updated September 2020. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/infertility/overview-of-infertility

US Department of Health and Human Services. Understanding fertility: The basics. Date unknown. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://opa.hhs.gov/reproductive-health/understanding-fertility-basics

US Department of Health and Human Services. Infertility. Updated April 1, 2019. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/infertility

US Food and Drug Administration. Ovulation (saliva test). Updated February 4, 2018. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/home-use-tests/ovulation-saliva-test

US Food and Drug Administration. Ovulation (urine test). Updated February 4, 2018. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/home-use-tests/ovulation-urine-test

US Department of Health and Human Services. Your menstrual cycle. Updated March 16, 2018. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/your-menstrual-cycle

US Department of Health and Human Services. Trying to conceive. Updated June 06, 2018. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/you-get-pregnant/trying-conceive

Welt CK. Evaluation of the menstrual cycle and timing of ovulation. In: Barbieri RL, Crowley WF, eds. UpToDate. Updated May 5, 2019. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/evaluation-of-the-menstrual-cycle-and-timing-of-ovulation

Welt CK. Physiology of the normal menstrual cycle. In: Crowley WF, Blake D, eds. UpToDate. Updated January 11, 2021. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/physiology-of-the-normal-menstrual-cycle

Ask a Laboratory Scientist

Ask a Laboratory Scientist

This form enables patients to ask specific questions about lab tests. Your questions will be answered by a laboratory scientist as part of a voluntary service provided by one of our partners, American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science. Please allow 2-3 business days for an email response from one of the volunteers on the Consumer Information Response Team.

Send Us Your Question