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Implications of “Empty Follicle Syndrome and “Premature Luteinization”

by Dr. Geoffrey Sher on November 6, 2015

Frequently, when following vigorous and often repeated flushing of follicles at egg retrieval they fail to yield eggs, it is ascribed to “Empty Follicle Syndrome.” This is a gross misnomer, because all follicles contain eggs. So why were no eggs retrieved from the follicles? Most likely it was because they would/could not yield the eggs they harbored.

This situation is most commonly seen in older women, women who have severely diminished ovarian reserve, and in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). In my opinion it is often preventable when an optimal, individualized and strategic protocol for controlled ovarian stimulation (COS) is employed and the correct timing and dosage is applied to the “hCG trigger shot.

Normally, following optimal ovarian stimulation, the hCG “trigger shot” is given for the purpose of it triggering meiosis (reproductive division) that is intended to halve the number of chromosomes from 46 to 23 within 32-36 hours. The hCG trigger also enables the egg to signal the “cumulus cells” that bind it firmly to the inner wall of the follicle (through enzymatic activity), to loosen or disperse, so that the egg can detach and readily be captured at egg retrieval (ER).

Ordinarily, normal eggs (and even those with only one or two chromosomal irregularities) will readily detach and be captured with the very first attempt to empty a follicle. Eggs that have several chromosomal numerical abnormalities (i.e., are “complex aneuploid”) are often unable to facilitate this process. This explains why when the egg is complex aneuploid, its follicle will not yield an egg…and why, when it requires repeated flushing of a follicle to harvest an egg, it is highly suggestive of it being aneuploid and thus “incompetent” (i.e., incapable of subsequently propagating a normal embryo).

Older women, women with diminished ovarian reserve, and those with polycystic ovarian syndrome, tend to have more biologically active LH in circulation. LH causes production of male hormone (androgens, predominantly testosterone), by ovarian connective tissue (stroma/theca). A little testosterone is needed for optimal follicle development and for FSH-induced ovogenesis (egg development). Too much LH activity compromises the latter, and eggs so affected are far more likely to be aneuploid following meiosis.

Women with the above conditions have increased LH activity and are thus more likely to produce excessive ovarian testosterone. It follows that sustained, premature elevations in LH or premature luteinization (often referred to as a “premature LH surge”) will prejudice egg development. Such compromised eggs are much more likely to end up being complex aneuploid following the administration of the hCG trigger, leading to fruitless attempts at retrieval and the so called “empty follicle syndrome.”

The developing eggs of women who have increased LH activity (older women, women with diminished ovarian reserve, and those with PCOS) are inordinately vulnerable to the effects of protracted exposure to LH-induced ovarian testosterone. Because of this, the administration of medications that provoke further pituitary LH release (e.g., clomiphene and Letrozole), drugs that contain LH or hCG (e.g., Menopur), or protocols of ovarian stimulation that provoke increased exposure to the woman’s own pituitary LH (e.g., “flare-agonist protocols”) and the use of “late pituitary blockade” (antagonist) protocols can be prejudicial.

The importance of individualizing COS protocol selection, precision with regard to the dosage and type of hCG trigger used, and the timing of its administration in such cases cannot be overstated. The ideal dosage of urinary-derived hCG (hCG-u) such as Novarel, Pregnyl and Profasi is 10,000U. When recombinant DNA-derived hCG (hCG-r) such as Ovidrel is used, the optimal dosage is 500mcg. A lower dosage of hCG can, by compromising meiosis, increase the risk of egg aneuploidy, and thus of IVF outcome.

There is in my opinion no such condition as “Empty Follicle Syndrome.” All follicles contain eggs. Failure to access those eggs at ER can often be a result of the protocol used for controlled ovarian stimulation.

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  • simone - November 8, 2017 reply

    Hi Dr Sher,
    I did a low dose antagonist protocol. I am 38 years old. I was on 100 FSH – gonal F-and 150 Menopur from CD2, then day 11 I started Ganirelix as well. My egg collection was on day 17 and two days prior I had a scan which showed 1 septated follicle of 25mm, 1 x 18mm, 2 x 16mm follicles, and then some that were around 12-13mm. My oestrogen was at 3000 pmol/L. The doctor was expecting at least 3-4 follicles – unlikely the separated follicle contained an egg, according to my E2 levels and the scans. On egg collection they first said they only got 1 egg, but then when in recovery for 1/2 an hour, they said the found a second egg. I was shocked to only get 2 eggs. I took 10,000 iU of pregnyl 37 hours prior to egg collection. They only used a single lumen aspiration. Do you think that the other eggs were just bad eggs and therefore didn’t detach properly from the follicle? Or do you think that they could have got more eggs if they flushed? Is it possible for those other 2-3 eggs to have ovulated even after the follicles have been punctured? I am feeling perfectly fine after egg collection which was early this morning, would it be worth trying naturally tonight? I get pregnant naturally quite readily, but tend to have early miscarriages – this has been happening since I was 34. My husband has a varicocele, but the doctor said because he has high sperm numbers and his normal morphology is 4% that there is no need to operate on it, would you agree? I am worried, because every time we do IVF the embryos drop off after day 3. Thanks!

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher - November 8, 2017 reply

    Frequently, when following vigorous and often repeated flushing of follicles at egg retrieval they fail to yield eggs, it is ascribed to “Empty Follicle Syndrome.” This is a gross misnomer, because all follicles contain eggs. So why were no eggs retrieved from the follicles? Most likely it was because they would/could not yield the eggs they harbored.
    This situation is most commonly seen in older women, women who have severely diminished ovarian reserve, and in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). In my opinion it is often preventable when an optimal, individualized and strategic protocol for controlled ovarian stimulation (COS) is employed and the correct timing and dosage is applied to the “hCG trigger shot.”
    Normally, following optimal ovarian stimulation, the hCG “trigger shot” is given for the purpose of it triggering meiosis (reproductive division) that is intended to halve the number of chromosomes from 46 to 23 within 32-36 hours. The hCG trigger also enables the egg to signal the “cumulus cells” that bind it firmly to the inner wall of the follicle (through enzymatic activity), to loosen or disperse, so that the egg can detach and readily be captured at egg retrieval (ER).
    Ordinarily, normal eggs (and even those with only one or two chromosomal irregularities) will readily detach and be captured with the very first attempt to empty a follicle. Eggs that have several chromosomal numerical abnormalities (i.e., are “complex aneuploid”) are often unable to facilitate this process. This explains why when the egg is complex aneuploid, its follicle will not yield an egg…and why, when it requires repeated flushing of a follicle to harvest an egg, it is highly suggestive of it being aneuploid and thus “incompetent” (i.e., incapable of subsequently propagating a normal embryo).
    Older women, women with diminished ovarian reserve, and those with polycystic ovarian syndrome, tend to have more biologically active LH in circulation. LH causes production of male hormone (androgens, predominantly testosterone), by ovarian connective tissue (stroma/theca). A little testosterone is needed for optimal follicle development and for FSH-induced ovogenesis (egg development). Too much LH activity compromises the latter, and eggs so affected are far more likely to be aneuploid following meiosis.
    Women with the above conditions have increased LH activity and are thus more likely to produce excessive ovarian testosterone. It follows that sustained, premature elevations in LH or premature luteinization (often referred to as a “premature LH surge”) will prejudice egg development. Such compromised eggs are much more likely to end up being complex aneuploid following the administration of the hCG trigger, leading to fruitless attempts at retrieval and the so called “empty follicle syndrome.”
    The developing eggs of women who have increased LH activity (older women, women with diminished ovarian reserve, and those with PCOS) are inordinately vulnerable to the effects of protracted exposure to LH-induced ovarian testosterone. Because of this, the administration of medications that provoke further pituitary LH release (e.g., clomiphene and Letrozole), drugs that contain LH or hCG (e.g., Menopur), or protocols of ovarian stimulation that provoke increased exposure to the woman’s own pituitary LH (e.g., “flare-agonist protocols”) and the use of “late pituitary blockade” (antagonist) protocols can be prejudicial.
    The importance of individualizing COS protocol selection, precision with regard to the dosage and type of hCG trigger used, and the timing of its administration in such cases cannot be overstated. The ideal dosage of urinary-derived hCG (hCG-u) such as Novarel, Pregnyl and Profasi is 10,000U. When recombinant DNA-derived hCG (hCG-r) such as Ovidrel is used, the optimal dosage is 500mcg. A lower dosage of hCG can, by compromising meiosis, increase the risk of egg aneuploidy, and thus of IVF outcome.
    There is in my opinion no such condition as “Empty Follicle Syndrome.” All follicles contain eggs. Failure to access those eggs at ER can often be a result of the protocol used for controlled ovarian stimulation.

    Geoff Sher

  • Alex - September 12, 2016 reply

    Hello Dr Sher,
    Can this “Empty Follicle Syndrome” be the reason for infertility in natural cycle. I mean is it possible that each month I have this egg that is unable to “free itself”? or does this problem occur in COS only?

    I had my first COS and it was unsuccessful, out of ten follicles only 3 were retrieved. I was really upset and still cannot understand the reason as i do not have any of the issues describer above (diminished ovarian reserve, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or age as I’m only 30)

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher - September 12, 2016 reply

    Yes it can!

    Frequently, when following vigorous and often repeated flushing of follicles at egg retrieval they fail to yield eggs, it is ascribed to “Empty Follicle Syndrome.” This is a gross misnomer, because all follicles contain eggs. So why were no eggs retrieved from the follicles? Most likely it was because they would/could not yield the eggs they harbored.
    This situation is most commonly seen in older women, women who have severely diminished ovarian reserve, and in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). In my opinion it is often preventable when an optimal, individualized and strategic protocol for controlled ovarian stimulation (COS) is employed and the correct timing and dosage is applied to the “hCG trigger shot.”
    Normally, following optimal ovarian stimulation, the hCG “trigger shot” is given for the purpose of it triggering meiosis (reproductive division) that is intended to halve the number of chromosomes from 46 to 23 within 32-36 hours. The hCG trigger also enables the egg to signal the “cumulus cells” that bind it firmly to the inner wall of the follicle (through enzymatic activity), to loosen or disperse, so that the egg can detach and readily be captured at egg retrieval (ER).
    Ordinarily, normal eggs (and even those with only one or two chromosomal irregularities) will readily detach and be captured with the very first attempt to empty a follicle. Eggs that have several chromosomal numerical abnormalities (i.e., are “complex aneuploid”) are often unable to facilitate this process. This explains why when the egg is complex aneuploid, its follicle will not yield an egg…and why, when it requires repeated flushing of a follicle to harvest an egg, it is highly suggestive of it being aneuploid and thus “incompetent” (i.e., incapable of subsequently propagating a normal embryo).
    Older women, women with diminished ovarian reserve, and those with polycystic ovarian syndrome, tend to have more biologically active LH in circulation. LH causes production of male hormone (androgens, predominantly testosterone), by ovarian connective tissue (stroma/theca). A little testosterone is needed for optimal follicle development and for FSH-induced ovogenesis (egg development). Too much LH activity compromises the latter, and eggs so affected are far more likely to be aneuploid following meiosis.
    Women with the above conditions have increased LH activity and are thus more likely to produce excessive ovarian testosterone. It follows that sustained, premature elevations in LH or premature luteinization (often referred to as a “premature LH surge”) will prejudice egg development. Such compromised eggs are much more likely to end up being complex aneuploid following the administration of the hCG trigger, leading to fruitless attempts at retrieval and the so called “empty follicle syndrome.”
    The developing eggs of women who have increased LH activity (older women, women with diminished ovarian reserve, and those with PCOS) are inordinately vulnerable to the effects of protracted exposure to LH-induced ovarian testosterone. Because of this, the administration of medications that provoke further pituitary LH release (e.g., clomiphene and Letrozole), drugs that contain LH or hCG (e.g., Menopur), or protocols of ovarian stimulation that provoke increased exposure to the woman’s own pituitary LH (e.g., “flare-agonist protocols”) and the use of “late pituitary blockade” (antagonist) protocols can be prejudicial.
    The importance of individualizing COS protocol selection, precision with regard to the dosage and type of hCG trigger used, and the timing of its administration in such cases cannot be overstated. The ideal dosage of urinary-derived hCG (hCG-u) such as Novarel, Pregnyl and Profasi is 10,000U. When recombinant DNA-derived hCG (hCG-r) such as Ovidrel is used, the optimal dosage is 500mcg. A lower dosage of hCG can, by compromising meiosis, increase the risk of egg aneuploidy, and thus of IVF outcome.
    There is in my opinion no such condition as “Empty Follicle Syndrome.” All follicles contain eggs. Failure to access those eggs at ER can often be a result of the protocol used for controlled ovarian stimulation.

    The older a woman becomes, the more likely it is that her eggs will be chromosomally/genetically “incompetent” (not have the potential upon being fertilized and transferred, to result in a viable pregnancy). That is why, the likelihood of failure to conceive, miscarrying and of giving birth to a chromosomally defective child (e.g. with Down Syndrome) increases with the woman’s advancing age. In addition, as women age beyond 35Y there is commonly a progressive diminution in the number of eggs left in the ovaries, i.e. diminished ovarian reserve (DOR). So it is that older women as well as those who (regardless of age) have DOR have a reduced potential for IVF success. Much of this is due to the fact that such women tend to have increased production of LH biological activity which can result in excessive LH-induced ovarian male hormone (predominantly testosterone) production which in turn can have a deleterious effect on egg/embryo “competency”.
    While it is presently not possible by any means, to reverse the age-related effect on the woman’s “biological clock, certain ovarian stimulation regimes, by promoting excessive LH production (e.g. short agonist/Lupron- “flare” protocols, clomiphene and Letrozole), can make matters worse. Similarly, the amount/dosage of certain fertility drugs that contain LH/hCG (e.g. Menopur) can have a negative effect on the development of the eggs of older women and those who have DOR and should be limited.
    I try to avoid using such protocols/regimes (especially) in older women and those with DOR, favoring instead the use of the agonist/antagonist conversion protocol (A/ACP), a modified, long pituitary down-regulation regime, augmented by adding supplementary human growth hormone (HGH). I further recommend that such women be offered access to embryo banking of PGS (next generation gene sequencing/NGS)-selected normal blastocysts, the subsequent selective transfer of which by allowing them to to capitalize on whatever residual ovarian reserve and egg quality might still exist and thereby “make hay while the sun still shines” could significantly enhance the opportunity to achieve a viable pregnancy
    Please visit my new Blog on this very site, http://www.DrGeoffreySherIVF.com, find the “search bar” and 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 Approach
    • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
    • The “Biological Clock” and how it should Influence the Selection and Design of Ovarian Stimulation Protocols for IVF.
    • A Rational Basis for selecting Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) protocols in women with Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR)
    • Diagnosing and Treating Infertility due to Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR)
    • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in Older women and Women who have Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR): A Rational Basis for Selecting a Stimulation Protocol
    • Human Growth Hormone Administration in IVF: Does it Enhances Egg/Embryo Quality and Outcome?
    • 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
    • Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) versus “Fresh” ET: How to Make the Decision
    • Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET): A Rational Approach to Hormonal Preparation and How new Methodology is Impacting IVF.
    • Staggered IVF: An Excellent Option When. Advancing Age and Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR) Reduces IVF Success Rate
    • Embryo Banking/Stockpiling: Slows the “Biological Clock” and offers a Selective Alternative to IVF-Egg Donation.
    • Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGS) in IVF: It Should be Used Selectively and NOT be Routine.
    • Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS) Using: Next Generation Gene Sequencing (NGS): Method of Choice.
    • PGS in IVF: Are Some Chromosomally Abnormal Embryos Capable of Resulting in Normal Babies and Being Wrongly Discarded?
    • PGS and Assessment of Egg/Embryo “competency”: How Method, Timing and Methodology Could Affect Reliability
    • 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
    • Premature Luteinization (“the premature LH surge): Why it happens and how it can be prevented.
    • IVF Egg Donation: A Comprehensive Overview
    I invite you to arrange to have a Skype or an in-person consultation with me to discuss your case in detail. If you are interested, please contact Julie Dahan, at:

    Email: Julied@sherivf.com

    OR

    Phone: 702-533-2691
    800-780-7437

  • MrsO - March 22, 2016 reply

    I just had my ‘egg retrieval’ procedure at 8am today which yielded no eggs from 6-8 follicles that my doctor thought to be good prospects. This was my first IVF cycle and I took Gonal F for 18 days, Orgalutran for 10 days and then a Pregnyl trigger at 6pm on Monday. I understand that 1st cycle is a lot of trial and error but I had hoped to get at least 1 egg. Not knowing what went wrong or how to avoid it in the future is killing me. I have PCOS, an AMH within normal limits for my age and at my last blood test in October 2015 all hormone were also within the normal ranges. Other than a long menstrual cycle (34-38 days) and anovulation my FS seemed confident going into the first cycle that we should be able to overcome these issues.

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher - March 23, 2016 reply

    Frequently, when following vigorous and often repeated flushing of follicles at egg retrieval they fail to yield eggs, it is ascribed to “Empty Follicle Syndrome.” This is a gross misnomer, because all follicles contain eggs. So why were no eggs retrieved from the follicles? Most likely it was because they would/could not yield the eggs they harbored.
    This situation is most commonly seen in older women, women who have severely diminished ovarian reserve, and in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). In my opinion it is often preventable when an optimal, individualized and strategic protocol for controlled ovarian stimulation (COS) is employed and the correct timing and dosage is applied to the “hCG trigger shot.”
    Normally, following optimal ovarian stimulation, the hCG “trigger shot” is given for the purpose of it triggering meiosis (reproductive division) that is intended to halve the number of chromosomes from 46 to 23 within 32-36 hours. The hCG trigger also enables the egg to signal the “cumulus cells” that bind it firmly to the inner wall of the follicle (through enzymatic activity), to loosen or disperse, so that the egg can detach and readily be captured at egg retrieval (ER).
    Ordinarily, normal eggs (and even those with only one or two chromosomal irregularities) will readily detach and be captured with the very first attempt to empty a follicle. Eggs that have several chromosomal numerical abnormalities (i.e., are “complex aneuploid”) are often unable to facilitate this process. This explains why when the egg is complex aneuploid, its follicle will not yield an egg…and why, when it requires repeated flushing of a follicle to harvest an egg, it is highly suggestive of it being aneuploid and thus “incompetent” (i.e., incapable of subsequently propagating a normal embryo).
    Older women, women with diminished ovarian reserve, and those with polycystic ovarian syndrome, tend to have more biologically active LH in circulation. LH causes production of male hormone (androgens, predominantly testosterone), by ovarian connective tissue (stroma/theca). A little testosterone is needed for optimal follicle development and for FSH-induced ovogenesis (egg development). Too much LH activity compromises the latter, and eggs so affected are far more likely to be aneuploid following meiosis.
    Women with the above conditions have increased LH activity and are thus more likely to produce excessive ovarian testosterone. It follows that sustained, premature elevations in LH or premature luteinization (often referred to as a “premature LH surge”) will prejudice egg development. Such compromised eggs are much more likely to end up being complex aneuploid following the administration of the hCG trigger, leading to fruitless attempts at retrieval and the so called “empty follicle syndrome.”
    The developing eggs of women who have increased LH activity (older women, women with diminished ovarian reserve, and those with PCOS) are inordinately vulnerable to the effects of protracted exposure to LH-induced ovarian testosterone. Because of this, the administration of medications that provoke further pituitary LH release (e.g., clomiphene and Letrozole), drugs that contain LH or hCG (e.g., Menopur), or protocols of ovarian stimulation that provoke increased exposure to the woman’s own pituitary LH (e.g., “flare-agonist protocols”) and the use of “late pituitary blockade” (antagonist) protocols can be prejudicial.
    The importance of individualizing COS protocol selection, precision with regard to the dosage and type of hCG trigger used, and the timing of its administration in such cases cannot be overstated. The ideal dosage of urinary-derived hCG (hCG-u) such as Novarel, Pregnyl and Profasi is 10,000U. When recombinant DNA-derived hCG (hCG-r) such as Ovidrel is used, the optimal dosage is 500mcg. A lower dosage of hCG can, by compromising meiosis, increase the risk of egg aneuploidy, and thus of IVF outcome.
    There is in my opinion no such condition as “Empty Follicle Syndrome.” All follicles contain eggs. Failure to access those eggs at ER can often be a result of the protocol used for controlled ovarian stimulation.

    Please visit my new Blog on this very site, http://www.DrGeoffreySherIVF.com, find the “search bar” and 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 promptl

    • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) for IVF: Selecting the ideal protocol
    • Ovarian Stimulation for IVF using GnRH Antagonists: Comparing the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol.(A/ACP) With the“Conventional” Antagonist Aproach
    • IVF: Factors Affecting Egg/Embryo “competency” during Controlled Ovarian Stimulation(COS)
    • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
    • The “Biological Clock” and how it should Influence the Selection and Design of Ovarian Stimulation Protocols for IVF.
    • Diagnosing and Treating Infertility due to Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR)
    • Human Growth Hormone Administration in IVF: Does it Enhances Egg/Embryo Quality and Outcome?
    • The BCP: Does Launching a Cycle of Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS). Coming off the BCP Compromise Response?
    • Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET): A Rational Approach to Hormonal Preparation and How new Methodology is Impacting IVF.
    • Staggered IVF: An Excellent Option When. Advancing Age and Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR) Reduces IVF Success Rate
    • Embryo Banking/Stockpiling: Slows the “Biological Clock” and offers a Selective Alternative to IVF-Egg Donation.
    • Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS) Using: Next Generation Gene Sequencing (NGS): Method of Choice.
    • IVF Failure and Implantation Dysfunction: The Role of Endometrial Thickness, Uterine Pathology and Immunologic Factors
    • Why did my IVF Fail
    I invite you to call 702-699-7437 or 800-780-7437 or go online on this site and set up a one hour Skype consultation with me to discuss your case in detail.

    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.

    Geoff Sher

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