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Clomiphene Induction of Ovulation: Use and Misuse

by Dr. Geoffrey Sher on June 11, 2016

Clomiphene citrate (Clomid) is by far the most commonly used fertility drug in the world. Used in the right circumstances and with appropriate application, it can be and is effective in assisting conception.

Ideally the use of clomiphene use should be confined to younger women (under 35 years) who have normal “ovarian reserves” (as evidenced by normal day-3 FSH and AMH levels) and accordingly are likely to respond by producing the multiple follicles (at least 3), necessary to override the “antiestrogenic” effects of clomiphene (see below). In my opinion, if used for longer than 3 consecutive months, clomiphene is not only ineffective, but actually starts to function as a “relative” contraceptive! This could come as a shocking revelation to many women who have often many more consecutive cycles of Clomiphene without success.  

Few realize that the rate of conception with clomiphene therapy is about 20%-30% lower than the natural fertility rate for any given age and about 25% lower than when gonadotropin stimulation is used. This problem increases significantly with advancing age.Consider the fact that in women under 35 years, the pregnancy rate with clomiphene treatment is about 10% per cycle , about 5% between 35 and 40 years and <3% after age 40Y. Here are a few reasons why this is so:

  • Clomiphene through its “antiestrogen effect” tricks an area in the brain (the hypothalamus) that regulates release of FSH and LH by the pituitary gland, into “thinking” that ovarian estrogen levels are low. In response, the pituitary gland reacts by releasing exaggerated amounts of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates development of the follicles, ultimately resulting in ovulation. The growing ovarian follicles secrete estrogen into the bloodstream, thus closing the feedback circle that the hypothalamus initiated in response to the anti-estrogen properties of Clomiphene. Unfortunately, however, at the same time the pituitary also releases large amounts of LH which causes the ovary to produce large amounts of the male hormone, testosterone. In high local ovarian concentrations, testosterone can compromise egg quality and thus ultimately the chance of having a baby. The older the woman, the greater this adverse effect of clomiphene will be.
  • Clomiphene’s anti-estrogenic effects often manifest as an over-thin uterine lining that is incapable of supporting a healthy pregnancy, thickening of the cervical mucus, making sperm migration via the uterus to the awaiting egg in the fallopian tube difficult or impossible. This antiestrogenic effect will invariably build to such a degree over 3 consecutive back-to back cycles of clomiphene therapy (that regardless of age or “ovarian reserve”) most women will manifest with such effects by the 4th month of back-to-back cycles of stimulation. This is why, in my opinion, no woman using clomiphene should do more than three consecutive cycles of treatment without taking at least some break from therapy. Fortunately, the cessation of Clomiphene treatment for only one month is usually sufficient to completely reverse such highly undesirable side effects. The same anti-estrogen effects can occur with the very first clomiphene treatment cycle. This usually happens in women over 35 years and those with elevated FSH levels (poor responders) who cannot produce enough follicles that would produce sufficient estrogen to overcome the anti-estrogenic effects of clomiphene. When this happens or when the woman fails to conceive following (at most) 3 cycles of clomiphene stimulation, it is time to move on to a different method of treatment.
  • About 20% of clomiphene cycles are associated with trapped ovulation (LUF syndrome). This means that in spite of hormone changes suggesting that ovulation has occurred, the egg remains trapped in the ovary. Obviously this is not condusive to the establishment of a successful pregnancy.

The above serves to explain why I strongly hold that Clomiphene should not be prescribed to women over 35 years of age, never to women with diminished ovarian reserve or women over 40 years, and should be avoided in IVF (alone or in combination with gonadotropins). The results are simply too poor to validate such practices.

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  • Nicole Jolie Perdue - July 4, 2016 reply

    Not even sure where to begin… I am 37 years old and have had 9 miscarriages with zero live births and frustrated by lack of answers. I have stayed with the same OB, Dr. Thad Decker, who also referred me to fertility specialist Dr. Christine Mansfield, who saw me this current year with no results or better answers, as seeing her is out of pocket and finance an issue. My last miscarriage was in January, 2016. I was given a D & C in February ans had laproscopic in April, which did find Endometreosis on my left side. All done by Decker. He had me start Clomid this month, which I am now unsure of after reading your take. My biggest concern and question: after doing a lot of my OWN research, I truly believe that I have these higher elevated natural killer cells which is what is causing me to miscarry. I brought this up to Dr. Mansfield and she wrote it off. I want to stay with my regular Dr, who caught the endo, but how do I convince him to test me and treat me for this condtion? I feel as though my window for children is closing, and I can not afford extreme measures for one miacle. I’m giving up hope that I will ever be a mother in this lifetime… Can you advise me on anything?
    My last pregnancy was longest at around 10 weeks, but u/s proved sac never grew past 7 weeks. I have only had 1 heartbeat at 6 weeks, gone a week later and always seem to miscarry around the 7-8th week mark.

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher - July 4, 2016 reply

    Hi Nicole,

    You have certainly been through quite a prolonged and aduous ordeal. I think I can help shed some light here.

    When it comes to reproduction, humans are the poorest performers of all mammals. In fact we are so inefficient that up to 75% of fertilized eggs do not produce live births, and up to 30% of pregnancies end up being lost within 10 weeks of conception (in the first trimester). RPL is defined as two (2) or more failed pregnancies. Less than 5% of women will experience two (2) consecutive miscarriages, and only 1% experience three or more.
    Pregnancy loss can be classified by the stage of pregnancy when the loss occurs:
    • Early pregnancy loss (first trimester)
    • Late pregnancy loss (after the first trimester)
    • Occult “hidden” and not clinically recognized, (chemical) pregnancy loss (occurs prior to ultrasound confirmation of pregnancy)
    • Early pregnancy losses usually occur sporadically (are not repetitive).
    In more than 70% of cases the loss is due to embryo aneuploidy (where there are more or less than the normal quota of 46 chromosomes). Conversely, repeated losses (RPL), with isolated exceptions where the cause is structural (e.g., unbalanced translocations), are seldom attributable to numerical chromosomal abnormalities (aneuploidy). In fact, the vast majority of cases of RPL are attributable to non-chromosomal causes such as anatomical uterine abnormalities or Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID).
    Since most sporadic early pregnancy losses are induced by chromosomal factors and thus are non-repetitive, having had a single miscarriage the likelihood of a second one occurring is no greater than average. However, once having had two losses the chance of a third one occurring is double (35-40%) and after having had three losses the chance of a fourth miscarriage increases to about 60%. The reason for this is that the more miscarriages a woman has, the greater is the likelihood of this being due to a non-chromosomal (repetitive) cause such as IID. It follows that if numerical chromosomal analysis (karyotyping) of embryonic/fetal products derived from a miscarriage tests karyotypically normal, then by a process of elimination, there would be a strong likelihood of a miscarriage repeating in subsequent pregnancies and one would not have to wait for the disaster to recur before taking action. This is precisely why we strongly advocate that all miscarriage specimens be karyotyped.
    There is however one caveat to be taken into consideration. That is that the laboratory performing the karyotyping might unwittingly be testing the mother’s cells rather than that of the conceptus. That is why it is not possible to confidently exclude aneuploidy in cases where karyotyping of products suggests a “chromosomally normal” (euploid) female.
    Late pregnancy losses (occurring after completion of the 1st trimester/12th week) occur far less frequently (1%) than early pregnancy losses. They are most commonly due to anatomical abnormalities of the uterus and/or cervix. Weakness of the neck of the cervix rendering it able to act as an effective valve that retains the pregnancy (i.e., cervical incompetence) is in fact one of the commonest causes of late pregnancy loss. So also are developmental (congenital) abnormalities of the uterus (e.g., a uterine septum) and uterine fibroid tumors. In some cases intrauterine growth retardation, premature separation of the placenta (placental abruption), premature rupture of the membranes and premature labor can also causes of late pregnancy loss.
    Much progress has been made in understanding the mechanisms involved in RPL. There are two broad categories:
    1. Problems involving the uterine environment in which a normal embryo is prohibited from properly implanting and developing. Possible causes include:
    • Inadequate thickening of the uterine lining
    • Irregularity in the contour of the uterine cavity (polyps, fibroid tumors in the uterine wall, intra-uterine scarring and adenomyosis)
    • Hormonal imbalances (progesterone deficiency or luteal phase defects). This most commonly results in occult RPL.
    • Deficient blood flow to the uterine lining (thin uterine lining).
    • Immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID). A major cause of RPL. Plays a role in 75% of cases where chromosomally normal preimplantation embryos fail to implant.
    • Interference of blood supply to the developing conceptus can occur due to a hereditary clotting disorder known as Thrombophilia.
    2. Genetic and/or structural chromosomal abnormality of the embryo.Genetic abnormalities are rare causes of RPL. Structural chromosomal abnormalities are slightly more common but are also occur infrequently (1%). These are referred to as unbalanced translocation and they result from part of one chromosome detaching and then fusing with another chromosome. Additionally, a number of studies suggest the existence of paternal (sperm derived) effect on human embryo quality and pregnancy outcome that are not reflected as a chromosomal abnormality. Damaged sperm DNA can have a negative impact on fetal development and present clinically as occult or early clinical miscarriage. The Sperm Chromatin Structure Assay (SCSA) which measures the same endpoints are newer and possibly improved methods for evaluating.

    IMMUNOLOGIC IMPLANTATION DYSFUNCTION
    Autoimmune IID: Here an immunologic reaction is produced by the individual to his/her body’s own cellular components. The most common antibodies that form in such situations are APA and antithyroid antibodies (ATA).
    But it is only when specialized immune cells in the uterine lining, known as cytotoxic lymphocytes (CTL) and natural killer (NK) cells, become activated and start to release an excessive/disproportionate amount of TH-1 cytokines that attack the root system of the embryo, that implantation potential is jeopardized. Diagnosis of such activation requires highly specialized blood test for cytokine activity that can only be performed by a handful of reproductive immunology reference laboratories in the United States.
    Alloimmune IID, i.e., where antibodies are formed against antigens derived from another member of the same species, is believed to be a relatively common immunologic cause of recurrent pregnancy loss.
    Autoimmune IID is often genetically transmitted. Thus it should not be surprising to learn that it is more likely to exist in women who have a family (or personal) history of primary autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus (LE), scleroderma or autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s disease), autoimmune hyperthyroidism (Grave’s disease), rheumatoid arthritis, etc. Reactionary (secondary) autoimmunity can occur in conjunction with any medical condition associated with widespread tissue damage. One such gynecologic condition is endometriosis. Since autoimmune IID is usually associated with activated NK and T-cells from the outset, it usually results in such very early destruction of the embryo’s root system that the patient does not even recognize that she is pregnant. Accordingly the condition usually presents as “unexplained infertility” or “unexplained IVF failure” rather than as a miscarriage.

    Alloimmune IID, on the other hand, usually starts off presenting as unexplained miscarriages (often manifesting as RPL). Over time as NK/T cell activation builds and eventually becomes permanently established the patient often goes from RPL to “infertility” due to failed implantation. RPL is more commonly the consequence of alloimmune rather than autoimmune implantation dysfunction.
    However, regardless, of whether miscarriage is due to autoimmune or alloimmune implantation dysfunction the final blow to the pregnancy is the result of activated NK cells and CTL in the uterine lining that damage the developing embryo’s “root system” (trophoblast) so that it can no longer sustain the growing conceptus. This having been said, it is important to note that autoimmune IID is readily amenable to reversal through timely, appropriately administered, selective immunotherapy, and alloimmune IID is not. It is much more difficult to treat successfully, even with the use of immunotherapy. In fact, in some cases the only solution will be to revert to selective immunotherapy plus using donor sperm (provided there is no “match” between the donor’s DQa profile and that of the female recipient) or alternatively to resort to gestational surrogacy.
    DIAGNOSING THE CAUSE OF RPL
    In the past, women who miscarried were not evaluated thoroughly until they had lost several pregnancies in a row. This was because sporadic miscarriages are most commonly the result of embryo numerical chromosomal irregularities (aneuploidy) and thus not treatable. However, a consecutive series of miscarriages points to a repetitive cause that is non-chromosomal and is potentially remediable. Since RPL is most commonly due to a uterine pathology or immunologic causes that are potentially treatable, it follows that early chromosomal evaluation of products of conception could point to a potentially treatable situation. Thus I strongly recommend that such testing be done in most cases of miscarriage. Doing so will avoid a great deal of unnecessary heartache for many patients.
    Establishing the correct diagnosis is the first step toward determining effective treatment for couples with RPL. It results from a problem within the pregnancy itself or within the uterine environment where the pregnancy implants and grows. Diagnostic tests useful in identifying individuals at greater risk for a problem within the pregnancy itself include:

    • Karyotyping (chromosome analysis) both prospective parents
    • Assessment of the karyotype of products of conception derived from previous miscarriage specimens
    • Ultrasound examination of the uterine cavity after sterile water is injected or sonohysterogram, fluid ultrasound, etc.)
    • Hysterosalpingogram (dye X-ray test)
    • Hysteroscopic evaluation of the uterine cavity
    • Full hormonal evaluation (estrogen, progesterone, adrenal steroid hormones, thyroid hormones, FSH/LH, etc.)
    • Immunologic testing to include:
    a) Antiphospholipid antibody (APA) panel
    b) Antinuclear antibody (ANA) panel
    c) Antithyroid antibody panel (i.e., antithyroglobulin and antimicrosomal antibodies)
    d) Reproductive immunophenotype
    e) Natural killer cell activity (NKa) assay (i.e., K562 target cell test)
    f) Alloimmune testing of both the male and female partners
    TREATMENT OF RPL
    Treatment for Anatomic Abnormalities of the Uterus: This involves restoration through removal of local lesions such as fibroids, scar tissue, and endometrial polyps or timely insertion of a cervical cerclage (a stitch placed around the neck of the weakened cervix) or the excision of a uterine septum when indicated.
    Treatment of Thin Uterine Lining: A thin uterine lining has been shown to correlate with compromised pregnancy outcome. Often this will be associated with reduced blood flow to the endometrium. Such decreased blood flow to the uterus can be improved through treatment with sildenafil and possibly aspirin.
    Sildenafil (Viagra) Therapy. Viagra has been used successfully to increase uterine blood flow. However, to be effective it must be administered starting as soon as the period stops up until the day of ovulation and it must be administered vaginally (not orally). Viagra in the form of vaginal suppositories given in the dosage of 25 mg four times a day has been shown to increase uterine blood flow as well as thickness of the uterine lining. To date, we have seen significant improvement of the thickness of the uterine lining in about 70% of women treated. Successful pregnancy resulted in 42% of women who responded to the Viagra. It should be remembered that most of these women had previously experienced repeated IVF failures.

    Use of Aspirin: This is an anti-prostaglandin that improves blood flow to the endometrium. It is administered at a dosage of 81 mg orally, daily from the beginning of the cycle until ovulation.
    Treating Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction with Selective Immunotherapy: Modalities such as IL/IVIg, heparinoids (Lovenox/Clexane), and corticosteroids (dexamethasone, prednisone, prednisolone) can be used in select cases depending on autoimmune or alloimmune dysfunction.
    The Use of IVF in the Treatment of RPL
    In the following circumstances, IVF is the preferred option:
    1. When in addition to a history of RPL, another standard indication for IVF (e.g., tubal factor, endometriosis, and male factor infertility) is superimposed.
    2. In cases where selective immunotherapy is needed to treat an immunologic implantation dysfunction.
    The reason for IVF being a preferred approach in such cases is that in order to be effective, the immunotherapy needs to be initiated well before spontaneous or induced ovulation. Given the fact that the anticipated birthrate per cycle of COS with or without IUI is at best about 15%, it follows that short of IVF, to have even a reasonable chance of a live birth, most women with immunologic causes of RPL would need to undergo immunotherapy repeatedly, over consecutive cycles. Conversely, with IVF, the chance of a successful outcome in a single cycle of treatment is several times greater and, because of the attenuated and concentrated time period required for treatment, IVF is far safer and thus represents a more practicable alternative
    Since embryo aneuploidy is a common cause of miscarriage, the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), with tests such as CGH, can provide a valuable diagnostic and therapeutic advantage in cases of RPL. PGD requires IVF to provide access to embryos for testing.
    There are a few cases of intractable alloimmune dysfunction due to absolute DQ alpha matching where Gestational Surrogacy or use of donor sperm could represent the only viable recourse, other than abandoning treatment altogether and/or resorting to adoption. Other non-immunologic factors such as an intractably thin uterine lining or severe uterine pathology might also warrant that last resort consideration be given to gestational surrogacy.
    The good news is that if a couple with RPL is open to all of the diagnostic and treatment options referred to above, a live birthrate of 70%–80% is ultimately achievable

    I strongly recommend that you visit http://www.DrGeoffreySherIVF.com. Then go to my Blog and access the “search bar”. Type in the titles of any/all of the articles listed below, one by one. “Click” and you will immediately be taken to those you select. Please also take the time to post any questions or comments with the full expectation that I will (as always) respond promptly.

    • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) for IVF: Selecting the ideal protocol
    • IVF: Factors Affecting Egg/Embryo “competency” during Controlled Ovarian Stimulation(COS)
    • The Fundamental Requirements For Achieving Optimal IVF Success
    • Ovarian Stimulation for IVF using GnRH Antagonists: Comparing the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol.(A/ACP) With the“Conventional” Antagonist Aproach
    • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
    • Induction of Ovulation With Clomiphene Citrate: Mode of Action, Indications, Benefits, Limitations and Contraindications for its ue
    • Clomiphene Induction of Ovulation: Its Use and Misuse!
    • The BCP: Does Launching a Cycle of Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS). Coming off the BCP Compromise Response?
    • Blastocyst Embryo Transfers Should be the Standard of Care in IVF
    • IVF Failure and Implantation Dysfunction:
    • The Role of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 1-Background
    • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 2- Making a Diagnosis
    • Immunologic Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 3-Treatment
    • Thyroid autoantibodies and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
    • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction: Importance of Meticulous Evaluation and Strategic Management:(Case Report
    • Intralipid and IVIG therapy: Understanding the Basis for its use in the Treatment of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
    • Natural Killer Cell Activation (NKa) and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction in IVF: The Controversy!
    • Endometrial Thickness, Uterine Pathology and Immunologic Factors
    • Vaginally Administered Viagra is Often a Highly Effective Treatment to Help Thicken a Thin Uterine Lining
    • Treating Out-of-State and Out-of-Country Patients at Sher-IVF in Las Vegas:
    • Traveling for IVF from Out of State/Country–
    • A personalized, stepwise approach to IVF
    • How Many Embryos should be transferred: A Critical Decision in IVF.
    • The Role of Nutritional Supplements in Preparing for IVF

    Please call or email Julie Dahan, my patient concierge. She will guide you on how to set up an in-person or Skype consultation with me. You can reach Julie at on her cell phone or via email at any time:
    Julie Dahan
    • Email: Julied@sherivf.com
    • Phone: 702-533-2691
     800-780-7437

    Geoff Sher

    I also suggest that you access the 4th edition of my book ,”In Vitro Fertilization, the ART of Making Babies”. It is available as a down-load through http://www.Amazon.com or from most bookstores and public libraries.

  • Geetha - June 14, 2016 reply

    Dear doctor,
    Can you please explain on the timing of intercourse after getting a hcg and by trying naturally.

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher - June 14, 2016 reply

    Intercourse should take place on the day of the hCG trgger or within about 24-36 hours thereof.

    Geoff Sher

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