Things to Avoid when Getting Fertility Treatments
Which Fertility Treatments You Should Avoid?
Infertility is defined as inability to conceive after one year (6 months in women >35 years) of regular unprotected intercourse (no contraception) and in the absence of any known cause for infertility. Earlier referral is recommended in
1) older women 35 years or more,
2) unable to have intercourse (e.g erectile dysfunction..),
3) genetic (e.g cystic fibrosis carrier), medical or pregnancy related risk factor (e.g systemic lupus, hepatitis C, HIV, hepatitis B... ),
4) if a fertility factor is suspected (no ovulation,PCOS, hypothalamic amenorrhea, male factor, endometriosis, tubal disease..) or
5) if fertility preservation is desired following cancer diagnosis.
Evidence is accumulating of the most effective fertility treatments after fertility assessment. Many fertility treatments are offered indiscriminately, they have little chance of succeeding or are risky (ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, multiple pregnancy). In general simple logic does not determine if a treatment is effective or not. It is only through well conducted studies we can prove the efficacy of such a treatment. Moreover, considering the final outcome- a live healthy newborn- should be the one to look for in such a study.
The following is not a medical advice, but a review of recent evidence related to fertility treatment options. You should discuss treatment with your fertility specialist. It is possible that sometimes these treatments are indicated for fertility treatment in special circumstances. Fertility treatments you should avoid may include:
You should not time your ovulation
If you have access to intercourse with a male partner every other day, timing ovulation using any method, does not increase your chance for natural conception. If you have intercourse twice or more a week you have excellent chance of conceiving within one year. Studies evaluating timed intercourse using basal body temperature charts, urine LH kits, cervical mucus, failed to show improvement in pregnancy rate beyond intercourse every other day. No evidence that fertility apps improve the chance for conception.
Use letrozole instead of clomid for ovulation induction in PCOS
There is high quality evidence that letrozole (aromatase inhibitor) is superior to clomid for induction of ovulation in women with PCOS and yeilds higher pregnancy rates. 750 infertile women with a diagnosis of PCOS, aged of 18-39 years, were enrolled: 376 patients were assigned to receive clomiphene 50 mg/day and 374 were assigned to receive letrozole 2.5 mg/day in doses escalating to 7.5 mg/day for a total of 5 days per cycle for up to five cycles. The drugs were provided in identical capsules over the same schedule. Ovulation rates with letrozole were significantly superior to clomiphene. Monthly chance for pregnancy and for a live birth was 30% higher in the letrozole group.
Avoid undergoing clomid or letrozole cycles without ultrasound monitoring
Although twins and higher order multiple pregnancies are not as common as in gonadotropin (injection medications) use [8% versus 30%] clomid is probably responsible for more twins than any other treatment because of its widespread use. Do not undergo ovulation induction without ultrasound monitoring to evaluate response and the number of follicles developing. Consider cycle cancellation if many follicles appear in the ovary.
Metformin alone is inferior to clomid in induction of ovulation and improving fertility
There is strong evidence that clomid is superior to metformin in ovulation induction in women diagnosed with PCOS. Letrozole or clomid are the medications of choice for induction of ovulation, not metformin. There is also no strong evidence that metformin reduces the chance for miscarriage.
Do not use oral medications for unexplained infertility
Unexplained (idiopathic) infertility is diagnosed in women who failed to conceive with regular ovulation, patent fallopian tubes and near normal patent sperm analysis. Women with unexplained infertility, mild male factor or minimal endometriosis do not conceive mostly because of chromosomal abnormalities of the egg. Ovarian stimulation using oral medications usually yields one or two eggs (close to natural cycles) while using injection medications can produce more eggs thus increasing the chance that one of them is healthy. There is no evidence that oral medications increase the odds of pregnancy in women with UEI.
Avoid gonadotropins-IUI and proceed directly to IVF
In women receiving oral medications (clomid)-IUI proceeding directly to IVF or proceeding immediately to IVF as first line treatment and avoiding injection medication-IUI is more successful in achieving pregnancy, is faster and minimizes the risk of multiple pregnancy.
The FASTT trial randomized 247 couples to receive three cycles of clomiphene citrate (CC)/IUI then three cycles of FSH/IUI and then up to six cycles of IVF versus 256 couples to an accelerated treatment, that omitted the three cycles of FSH/IUI. An increased rate of pregnancy was observed in the accelerated arm and pregnancy was achieved 3 months faster. Per cycle pregnancy rates for CC/IUI, FSH/IUI, and IVF were 7.6%, 9.8%, and 30.7%, respectively. The observed incremental difference was a savings of $2,624 per couple for accelerated treatment. The study demonstrated that FSH/IUI treatment was of no added value.
The FORT-T trial randomized couples with ≥6 months of unexplained infertility with female partner aged 38-42 years to treatment with two cycles of clomiphene citrate (CC) and intrauterine insemination (IUI), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)/IUI, or immediate IVF, followed by IVF if not pregnant. The cumulative clinical pregnancy rates per couple after the first two cycles of CC-IUI, FSH-IUI, or immediate IVF were 21.6%, 17.3%, and 49.0%, respectively. The majority (84%) of live-born infants resulting from treatment were achieved via IVF. Immediate IVF demonstrated superior pregnancy rates with fewer treatment cycles in the immediate IVF group.
Avoid using DHEA, GH or aspirin as adjuvants to IVF
There is no conclusive evidence that pretreatment, prior to IVF, with dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), growth hormone (GH) or other medications improves the pregnancy rate r live birth rates.
Avoid transferring two or more embryos when feasible
Multiple pregnancy carries an higher risk to the mother and to the health and neurological functions of the newborn. Outcomes in twins are definitely inferior to singleton babies. Women <38 years with a good quality embryo in there first or second IVF cycles should consider single embryo transfer. In the third cycle consider double embryo transfer.
Avoid routine use of pre-implantation genetic screening to improve the pregnancy rate after IVF
Chromosome analysis of embryos is available. There is no conclusive evidence that PGD will increase the chance for a live newborn. PGD will definitely not make the embryos healthy. If accurate, it will just enable finding the healthy embryo faster but the total number of healthy embryos, if any, will remain the same per completed IVF cycle. The accuracy of the test is no 100%, it is costly and require taking one or few cells from each embryo. Young women with good ovarian reserve have excellent pregnancy rate even with single embryo transfer. Moreover embryo freeze-thaw cycles yield comparable outcomes to fresh IVF cycles. Older women and women with low egg reserve produce a small number of embryos, which means that testing is not an efficient approach. PGD may have some role in older women e.g.>40 years producing a large number of embryos e.g >6 embryos. These women are the outliers.
Avoid using a physician with no experience in managing fertility problems
This will likely cause delay, reduce success and may increase complications. If you seek a specialist care, avoid any treatment that you do not understand its rationale. The choices are usually expectant treatment (regular intercourse), ovarian stimulation-IUI or IVF. Know the expected success rate and multiple pregnancy rate for each option offered to you by a reproductive endocrinologist.
Fertility Treatment Men Should Avoid
Avoid treating abnormal sperm parameters with oral or injection medications or supplements. No such treatment was demonstrated to improve the chance for a live born in female partner.
Avoid surgery for varicocele even if sperm parameters are abnormal. Surgery for varicocele is a treatment that was not proven to increase the odds of live born in female partner.
DR. AMR AZIM
Amr Azim, MD, FACOG is a reproductive endocrinologist and a fertility specialist with special training in treating simple and complex fertility problems. His areas of expertise are assisted reproduction and preservation of fertility.