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IVF Outcome in Patients with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

by Dr. Geoffrey Sher on October 16, 2017

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal system disorder among women affecting between 5% and 10% of women of reproductive age worldwide. Women with PCOS may have enlarged ovaries that contain multiple small collections of fluid (subcapsular microcysts) that are arranged like a “string of pearls” immediately below the ovarian surface (capsule), interspersed by an overgrowth of ovarian connective tissue (stroma). The condition is characterized by abnormal ovarian function (irregular or absent periods, abnormal or absent ovulation and infertility, androgenicity (increased body hair or hirsutism, acne) and increased body weight – body mass index or BMI.

Women with PCOS are at increased risk that ovarian stimulation with gonadotropins will result in the, of development of severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a life-endangering condition that is often accompanied by a profound reduction in egg quality. Such eggs will upon fertilization often yield an inordinately high percentage of “incompetent” embryos which have a reduced potential to propagate viable pregnancies.

Concern and even fear that their PCOS patients will develop of OHSS often leads the treating RE to take measures aimed at reducing these risks. In this regard, it is my opinion that the most important consideration is the selection and proper implementation of an individualized or customized   ovarian stimulation protocol.

What follows is a critical assessment of methods to prevent OHSS and/or limit its severity:

  1. PROLONGED COASTING…my preferred approach: My preferred approach is to use a long pituitary down-regulation protocol coming off the BCP which during the last 3 days is overlapped with the agonist, Lupron/Buserelin/Superfact. The BCP is intended to lower LH and thereby reduce stromal activation (hyperthecosis) in the hope of controlling LH-induced ovarian androgen (predominantly, testosterone) production and release. I then stimulate my PCOS patients using a low dosage of recombinant FSH-(FSHr) such as Follistim/Gonal-F/Puregon. On the 3rd day of such stimulation a smidgeon of LH/hCG (Luveris/Menopur) is added. Thereupon, starting on day 7 of ovarian stimulation, I perform serial blood estradiol (E2) and ultrasound follicle assessments, watching for the number and size of the follicles and the blood estradiol concentration [E2]. I keep stimulating (regardless of the [E2] until 50% of all follicles reach 14mm. At this point, provided the [E2] reaches at least >2,500pg/ml, I stop the agonist as well as gonadotropin stimulation and track the blood E2 concentration daily. The [E2] will almost invariably increase for a few days. I closely monitor the [E2] as it rises, plateaus and then begins to decline. As soon as the [E2] drops below 2500pg/ml (and not before then), I administer a “trigger” shot of 10,000U Profasi/ Novarel/Pregnyl or 500mcg Ovidrel/Ovitrel. This is followed by an egg retrieval, performed 36 hours later. Fertilization is accomplished using intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) because “coasted” eggs usually have little or no cumulus oophoris enveloping them and eggs without a cumulus will not readily fertilize naturally. Moreover, they also tend to have a “hardened” envelopment (zona pellucida), making spontaneous fertilization problematic in many cases.  All fertilized eggs are cultured to the blastocyst stage  (up to day 5- 6 days) and thereupon are either vitrified and preserved for subsequent transfer in later hormone replacement cycles or (up to 2) blastocysts are transferred to the uterus, transvaginally under transabdominal ultrasound guidance. The success of this approach depends on precise timing of the initiation and conclusion of “prolonged coasting”. If started too early, follicle growth will arrest and the cycle will be lost. If commenced too late, too many follicles will be post-mature/cystic (>22mm) and as such will usually harbor abnormal or dysmature eggs.  Use of “Coasting” almost always prevents the development of severe OHSS, optimizes egg/embryo quality and avoids unnecessary cycle cancellation. If correctly implemented, the worst you will encounter is moderate OHSS and this too is relatively uncommon.
  2. MULTIPLE FOLLICLE ASPIRATION: In some cases, in spite of best effort, you inadvertently find mean follicle size to exceed 16mm, thereby leaving too little time to implement “coasting”. On other occasions, “coasting” fails to effectively lower the [E2} below 2,500pg/ml within 3 days. In such case the number of developing follicles can effectively and drastically reduced (culled) through selective transvaginal aspiration prior to initiating the “trigger” with 10,000U hCG. This will almost invariably be accompanied by a rapid and significant drop in the plasma estradiol concentration along with a drastic reduction in the risk of OHSS occurring without significantly compromising egg/embryo quality. Upon completing surgical follicular reduction, the surviving follicles can be allowed to continue their full development, at which point the hCG “trigger” can be implemented. The drawback associated with this approach is that it unfortunately interjects an additional surgical intervention into an already complex and stressful situation.
  3. EMBRYO FREEZING AND DEFERMENT OF EMBRYO TRANSFEDR (ET): OHSS is always a self-limiting condition. In the absence of continued exposure to hCG, symptoms and signs as well as the risk of severe complications will ultimately abate. Thus, in the absence of pregnancy, all symptoms, signs and risks associated with OHSS will disappear within about 10-14 days of the hCG trigger. Conversely, since early pregnancy is always accompanied by a rapid and progressive rise in hCG , the severity of OHSS will increase until about the 9th or tenth gestational week whereupon a transition from ovarian to placental hormonal dominance occurs, the severity of OHSS rapidly diminishes and the patient will be out of risk. Accordingly, in cases where in spite of best effort to prevent OHSS, the woman develops symptoms and signs of progressive overstimulation prior to planned ET, all the blastocysts should be vitrified and cryostored for FET in a subsequent hormone replacement cycle. In this way women with OHSS can be spared the risk of the condition spiraling out of control.
  4. TRIGGERING WITH LOW DOISAGE hCG; Because of the fact that hCG augments the development of OHSS, many RE’s prefer to use a reduced dosage of hCG for the “trigger. This is either done by administering 5,000U (half the traditional dosage) or by administering, a 250mcg (rather than 500mcg) of DNA recombinant form of hCGr (Ovidrel/Ovitrel) in the hope that by doing so the risk of critical OHSS developing will be lowered. While this indeed might be true, it is my opinion, that the reduced dosage is usually insufficient to optimize the efficiency of egg meiosis, especially when there are so many follicles present. Thus, while the use of a reduced “trigger” dosage of hCG might well reduce the risk and occurrence of OHSS-related life-endangering complications, the price to be paid is reduced egg quality/”competency”.
  5. “TRIGGERING” WITH A GnRH AGONIST (E.G. “LUPRON/BUSERELIN): More recently, an increasing number of RE’s are triggering egg maturation by way of injecting an agonist (Lupron/Buserelin/Superfact)  to initiate the patient’s own pituitary gland to release a large amount of LH.  The idea is to mimic what happens in natural cycles to promote egg maturation (meiosis) and ovulation, namely to have the agonist cause a “surge” in the release of body’s own pituitary LH to trigger egg meiosis (maturation). But the amount of LH released in by the pituitary gland is often insufficient to optimize meiotic egg maturation and thus, while this approach also lowers the risk of OHSS it again comes at the expense of egg quality/competency.

A word of caution: I do not use long term administration of antagonists (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron), such as with the agonist/antagonist conversion protocol (A/ACP) in high responders whom are at risk of developing OHSS prolonged in-cycle administration of  because it can interfere with the E2  assay (often causing the value to be understated), and serial measurement of E2 is a vital part of monitoring patients undergoing “coasting.”

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  • Kristy - November 19, 2017 reply

    I am just starting my 4th IVF cycle. I have pcos, amh of 11.4, and 60+ afc at baseline. Last cycle I had 26 eggs retrieved, 21 mature, 20 fertilized with icsi, ended up with 12 blasts of which we had 2 pregnancies. Last cycle we triggered with Lupron after 8 days of stimulation. Should I ask about doing an hcg trigger instead of lupron with this cycle?

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher - November 19, 2017 reply

    You at risk of developing OHSS. Typically, women with irregular ovulation/menstruation, young women, those with high ovarian reserve (AMH=>6ng/ml) and those who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) who undergo ovarian stimulation with fertility drugs are at increased risk of developing severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a life endangering condition. In cases of OHSS egg “competency” (quality) is often severely compromised.
    The fear of OHSS developing often prompts RE’s to trigger egg maturation prematurely with hCG in the hope of arresting the process before ovarian stimulation spirals out of control, increasing physical risk and causing a high percentage of harvested eggs to end up being “incompetent”, (“immature/dysmature).
    Also in an attempt to reduce the risks of OHSS, some RE’s trigger egg maturation using a reduced dosage of hCG or through inducing an outpouring of pituitary LH an agonist such as Lupron or Buserelin. While such approaches indeed reduce the risk and severity of OHSS, they often result in many eggs failing to mature. Thus lowering risk by reducing the dosage of hCG or by using an agonist “trigger”, often comes at the expense of egg “competency”.
    In women with PCOS, poor egg “competency” is also often attributable to high ovarian LH-induced testosterone. Such eggs have reduced fertilization potential, often yielding “poor quality embryos”. While poor egg “competency” in women with PCOS can be due to the fact that such eggs are more prone to having intrinsic quality deficits, it is (in my opinion), more commonly attributable to aberrant intra-ovarian hormonal changes brought about by severe ovarian hyperstimulation. This effect, can be prevented or curtailed through implementation of individualized or customized ovarian stimulation protocols that minimize over-exposure to excessive LH-induced ovarian male hormones (androgens) which can best be accomplished by limiting the use of LH-containing gonadotropins such as Menopur and by using a procedure that I introduced in 1989, known as “prolonged coasting” (see below).
    Approaches to preventing or containing OHSS include:
    1. PROLONGED COASTING: My preferred approach is to use a long pituitary DR protocol coming off up to 2 months on the BCP, overlapped in the last 3 days with the agonist, Lupron. The BCP is intended to lower LH and thereby reduce stromal activation (hyperthecosis) in the hope of controlling ovarian androgen (predominantly, testosterone) production and release. I then stimulate with low dosage recombinant FSF-FSHr (Follistim/Gonal-F/Puregon) to which I add a smidgeon of LH/hCG (Luveris/Menopur) from the 3rd day. Then, starting on day 7 of ovarian stimulation, I perform serial blood estradiol (E2) and ultrasound follicle assessments, watching for the # of follicles and [E2]. If there are > 25 follicles, I keep stimulating (regardless of the [E2] until 50% of all follicles reach 14mm. At this point, provided the [E2] reaches at least >2,500pg/ml, I stop the agonist as well as gonadotropin stimulation and track the blood E2 (without continuing US, follicle measurements) ) daily. The [E2] will almost invariably increase for a few days. I watch the E2 rise (regardless of how high a blood concentration it reaches) and then track it coming down again. As soon as the [E2] drops below 2500pg/ml (and not before then), I administer a “trigger” shot of 10,000U hCGu (Profasi/ Novarel/Pregnyl) or hCGr (Ovidrel/Ovitrel-500mcg) and perform an egg retrieval 36 hours later. ICSI is a MUST because “coasted” eggs usually have no cumulus oophoris envelopment and eggs without a cumulus will not readily fertilize naturally. Moreover, they also tend to have a “hardened” envelopment (zona pellucida), making spontaneous fertilization problematic in many cases. All fertilized eggs are cultured to blastocyst (up to 6 days) and are then either vitrified and preserved for subsequent transfer in later hormone replacement cycles or up to two (2) fresh blastocysts are transferred transvaginal under US guidance.. The success of this approach depends on precise timing of the initiation and conclusion of “prolonged coasting”. If you start too early, follicle growth will stop and the cycle will be lost. If you start too late, you will encounter too many post-mature/cystic follicles (>22mm) that usually harbor abnormally developed eggs. Use of “Coasting” avoids unnecessary cycle cancellation, severe OHSS, and optimizes egg/embryo quality. The worst you will encounter is mild to moderate OHSS and this too is uncommon. The obvious remedy for these adverse effects on egg and endometrial development is to employ stimulation protocols that limit ovarian over-exposure to LH and allowing the time necessary for the follicles/eggs to develop optimally, prior to administering hCG through the judicious implementation of “Prolonged coasting” (PC).
    2. MULTIPLE FOLLICLE ASPIRATION: In some cases, where because of mean follicle size exceeding 16mm or when “coasting” fails to effectively lower the [E2} below 2,500pg/ml within 3 days, the number of developing follicles can effectively and drastically reduced through target transvaginal aspiration, 1-3 PRIOR to planned the hCG trigger. This will almost invariably be accompanied by a rapid and significant drop in the plasma [E2] and in the process will drastically reduce the risk of OHSS occurring without significantly compromising egg/embryo quality. The drawback of this effective approach is the fact that it interjects an additional surgical intervention into an already complex and stressful situation. i
    3. TRIGGERING WITH LOW DOISAGE hCG; Because of the fact that hCG augments the development of OHSS (unless preceded by “coasting”), may RE’s prefer to use a lower dosage of hCG for the “trigger. This is either done by administering 5,000U (half the traditional dosage) or by administering, a 250mcg (rather than 500mcg) of DNA recombinant form of hCGr (Ovidrel/Ovitrel. Some clinicians, when faced with a risk of OHSS developing will deliberately elect to reduce the “trigger” dosage of hCG administered (from 10,000U to 5,000U or 250mcg of recombinant hCG-Ovidrel) in the hope that by doing so the risk of critical OHSS developing will be lowered. While this might indeed be true, it is my opinion, that such a reduced dosage is usually insufficient to optimize the efficiency of egg meiosis, e3specially when there are so many follicles present. While the use of a reduced “trigger” dosage of hCG does indeed reduce the risk and occurrence of OHSS-related life-endangering complications, the price to be paid is reduced egg quality/”competency”.
    4. “TRIGGERING” WITH A GnRH AGONIST (E.G. “LUPRON/BUSERELIN): More recently, an increasing number of RE’s prefer to trigger meiosis by way of an agonist (Lupron/Buserelin/Superfact () “trigger” rather than through the use of hCG. The idea is to mimic what happens in natural cycles to promote egg maturation (meiosis) and ovulation, namely to have the agonist cause a “surge” in the release of body’s own pituitary LH to trigger egg meiosis (maturation) .But the amount of LH released in by the pituitary gland is often insufficient to optimize meiotic egg maturation and thus, while this approach also lowers the risk of OHSS it again comes at the expense of egg quality/competency.

    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.
    • The IVF Journey: The importance of “Planning the Trip” Before Taking the Ride”
    • 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
    • Use of GnRH Antagonists (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) in IVF-Ovarian Stimulation Protocols.
    • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
    • Treating Out-of-State and Out-of-Country Patients at Sher-IVF in Las Vegas:
    • A personalized, stepwise approach to IVF
    • Preventing Severe Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) with “Prolonged Coasting.
    • “Triggering” Egg Maturation in IVF: Comparing urine-derived hCG, Recombinant DNA-hCG and GnRH-agonist:
    • The “Lupron Trigger” to Prevent Severe OHSS: What are the Pro’s and Con’s?
    If you are interested in seeking my advice or services, I urge you to contact my concierge, Julie Dahan ASAP to set up a Skype or an in-person consultation with me. You can also contact Julie by phone or via email at 702-533-2691/ Julied@sherivf.com You can also apply online at http://www.SherIVF.com .

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

    Geoffrey Sher MD

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