Laparoscopy is a surgical procedure that allows a doctor to see inside the body. When the procedure is part of fertility testing, the doctor is evaluating the structures of the reproductive system, including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus.

In this article, learn about doctors use laparoscopies to help diagnose underlying causes of infertility.

Laparoscopy can help a doctor diagnose many conditions that affect fertility, such as:

  • endometriosis
  • blocked fallopian tubes
  • buildups of scar tissue
  • fibroids
  • other abnormalities of the reproductive system

Laparoscopy can also help when a woman has unexplained infertility. This is the diagnosis when results of other diagnostic tests were normal, but a woman is still unable to conceive.

By taking a look at the reproductive organs, the doctor may be able to identify conditions that are preventing conception and are otherwise undetectable.

A laparoscopy is a simple outpatient procedure. A person can undergo it in:

  • a hospital
  • an ambulatory surgical center
  • in some cases, a fertility doctor’s office
Image credit: staff, Medical gallery of Blausen Medical, 2014

A person will receive anesthesia before the procedure, so they will not be awake or able to feel pain. After giving them the anesthesia, a surgeon will:

  • insert a needle into the abdomen
  • inject gas into the abdomen, to make it easier to see the organs and structures
  • remove the needle and insert a small camera on an instrument called a laparoscope through a tiny incision
  • make a second incision and insert a small tool called a probe

With the camera, the doctor will examine the structures in the abdomen. They will use the probe to move or lift organs out of the way.

Depending on what the doctor sees, there may be other steps, including:

  • injecting dye through the fallopian tubes to see if they are open for sperm and eggs to travel through
  • attempting to open blocked fallopian tubes
  • removing scar tissue or adhesions
  • correcting abnormalities

They may make a third incision in the abdomen and insert instruments to perform these additional procedures.

Finally, the surgeon will remove the tools and stitch up the incisions.

A person will have to remain under observation for a few hours to make sure that there are no complications and that recovery is going well.

Anyone who has undergone a laparoscopy should have someone else drive them home. Also, someone should stay with them for up to 24 hours after surgery.

Some pain and discomfort are common after surgery, though it should be minimal.

A person may experience pain in the shoulders or abdomen as the injected gas starts to dissipate.

It can take a few days to relieve all of the gas and discomfort. Walking around and drinking peppermint tea can help.

The doctor should provide discharge instructions with more information about what to expect during recovery.

While rare, complications can occur after surgery. Anyone experiencing any of the following complications should contact the doctor right away or head to the nearest emergency room:

  • fever
  • heavy vaginal bleeding
  • worsening or severe pain
  • fainting
  • infection of the incisions, including redness, swelling, or discharge
  • being unable to use the bathroom
Among the procedures that can help detect the cause of infertility, laparoscopy is less invasive.

Compared to other surgical procedures that can help a doctor diagnose the cause of infertility, a laparoscopy involves:

  • less invasive methods
  • a lower risk of infection
  • smaller scars
  • the possibility of correcting the issue during surgery
  • an easier recovery

Also, if a person receives treatment during the procedure, the chances of conceiving may increase right away.

As with any surgical procedure, it is essential to consider the risks.

Risks associated with laparoscopy include:

  • internal bleeding
  • infection
  • damage to the internal organs
  • poor healing at the incision sites

In the past, laparoscopy was a standard diagnostic tool for women with unexplained infertility.

The increased use of assisted reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), has led some doctors to recommend IVF right away, before laparoscopy.

However, a doctor may still recommend laparoscopy if they believe that it can help.

A person should discuss the procedure, and whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks, with their doctor.

In many cases, a doctor can diagnose and even repair any issues during the laparoscopy.

After the procedure, they will describe the results and present some possible next steps.

If a person decides to try IVF or another fertility treatment, the doctor may recommend waiting several weeks or longer to allow the body to recover from the laparoscopy.