Dr. Sher Blog

Official blog of Dr. Geoffrey Sher

Secondary Infertility: Addressing the Root Causes

by Dr. Geoffrey Sher on November 12, 2015

It is one thing for a woman who has never been able to conceive (primary infertility) to come to grips with undergoing In Vitro Fertilization. It is quite another matter for someone who has successfully achieved a pregnancy in the past having to come to terms with a subsequent inability to conceive (secondary infertility). When this happens, it raises issues of guilt, a declining sense of self-worth and ultimately self-recrimination. The ramifications often impact family relationships involving partners and siblings. The truth is that secondary infertility can be just as difficult for individuals and family to deal with as primary infertility.

There are many factors that contribute to the problem of secondary infertility. These include:

Social and marital factors: In this modern day and age where at least one in two marriages ends in divorce, it is not surprising that there would be an inevitable hiatus in childbearing. This often results in a considerable delay in re-initiating family building. Since the biological clock keeps on ticking in the interim, advancing age can, and often does, have a profound affect on a woman’s ability to subsequently conceive and successfully complete a pregnancy. In my experience, this is one of the most common reasons for secondary infertility. In addition, by the time a decision is made to enter a new relationship, many men and women will have undergone a prior sterilization procedure which now needs to be addressed. To make matters worse, many such men and women first opt for surgical reversal of their occlusive surgery, only to learn in the end that the procedures were not successful, and they now need to consider in vitro fertilization (IVF) in one form or another.

Financial factors: Here, the cost of raising a child often weighs heavily, especially in this present tough economic climate. This is becoming more of an issue as women playing an ever increasing role as a primary bread winner.

Career demands: There can be little doubt that when it comes to climbing the career ladder, women are considerably disadvantaged by the fact that pregnancy and the immediate demands of child rearing take away from their ability to compete with men. As such, many women choose to delay having another child until such time as they have been able to make up for prior lost opportunity.

Medical barriers to fertility: Certain common medical conditions, while not absolutely precluding pregnancy, make it much more difficult to conceive.

Endometriosis: It is not uncommon for women with endometriosis to achieve a pregnancy, but find difficulty in doing so again at a later date. The reason for this is that while most women with endometriosis have patent fallopian tubes, the environment surrounding their tubes is compromised due to pelvic toxins that are produced by the endometriotic implants. These toxins compromise egg fertilization potential, making it more difficult for sperm in the fallopian tube to fertilize the egg upon its arrival there. As such, endometriosis is one of the commonest causes of secondary infertility.

Tubal damage due to prior pelvic inflammatory disease: In first world countries, the early and often indiscriminate use of antibiotics for the slightest symptom has led to the point where an acute attack of pelvic inflammatory disease is often masked. As such, less than 30% of American women with tubal damage have knowledge that their tubes are compromised and that they might have subsequent difficulty in conceiving. Since, in many such cases the tubal damage will not have totally blocked both tubes, some of the women so affected might experience a pregnancy but have difficulty in conceiving again later down the line.

Dysfunctional ovulation: Since ovulation as well as normal hormonal support of the early implanting embryo are both essential for a healthy pregnancy to occur, it follows that women with irregular or dysfunctional ovulation (e.g., polycystic ovarian syndrome – PCOS, persistent follicular luteal phase deficiencies or post birth control pill ovulatory problems) might sporadically conceive and thereupon find it difficult to do achieve another pregnancy later on.

Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID): has become ever more apparent that immunologic factors play an important role in achieving healthy implantation. Women with endometriosis (regardless of its severity), those with a personal or family history of autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid autoimmunity (TAI), and some cases where the man and the woman share certain genetic similarities (alloimmune implantation dysfunction), will have activated CTL/NK cells that  can inhibit or compromise healthy implantation. This is an often overlooked cause of secondary infertility. Most such autoimmune/alloimmune cases require selective immunotherapy and IVF.

Antisperm Antibodies: Although infrequent, some cases of secondary infertility might also be caused by the woman harboring antisperm antibodies. In such cases IVF is mandated.

Previous post-pregnancy uterine infection: Retention of products of conception after the birth of a child, miscarriage, or abortion can so damage the uterine lining as to result in subsequent implantation failure. Unless specifically looked for, this will usually be unknown to the patient, who will simply present with secondary infertility. Treatment is often difficult because such patients might not respond adequately to surgical removal of intrauterine scar tissue or to hormonal or Viagra therapy

Male immunologic factors: Most men who have undergone a previous vasectomy more than 10 years earlier, will have antisperm antibodies that will interfere with fertilization. Such cases require IVF with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Here we offer a few words of caution to men who are considering undergoing surgical reversal of vasectomy. Always first have a test done to exclude the presence of circulating antisperm antibodies, because in such cases, even if the reversal is successfully performed, they will not be able to initiate a pregnancy without IVF/ICSI.

Whatever the cause, secondary infertility often affects older couples disproportionately, creating a sense of urgency and even desperation in achieving a viable pregnancy before time runs out. It is for this reason that IVF becomes the treatment of choice in such cases. However, even IVF becomes progressively less successful with advancing age of the woman (whose eggs are being fertilized). In such cases it is important for the couple to be realistic with regard to their expectations. Here, options that include embryo banking and egg donation should be carefully considered.

Another important point is that whenever a regularly ovulating younger woman (under 36 years of age) with patent fallopian tubes is diagnosed with secondary infertility, it is essential to consider underlying endometriosis or non-obstructive tubal disease as a possible cause. In such cases, IVF is again the treatment of choice.

Share this post:

2 comments

Leave A Reply
  • Shaniqua Wells - August 17, 2016 reply

    Hello,

    I am currently 25 years old. I have been trying to conceive for about a year and a half. I have a 5 yr old that was conceived naturally. My husband and I have been trying to conceive for the 2 years. I have had 3 clomid cycles w/ hcg trigger. No pregnancy. I then went to have 2 follistim and iui cycles, but still no pregnancy. I’m very discouraged, as I feel that IVF is my only option. I ovulate on my own, I have regular 29 day cycles. I have had an hsg test, and my tubes came out normal. I’m not really sure which way I should go now. I took a break from my fertility treatments back in March. Is there any hope for us? Or is IVF the only thing that would help us conceive?

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher - August 17, 2016 reply

    It is one thing for a woman who has never been able to conceive (primary infertility) to come to grips with undergoing In Vitro Fertilization. It is quite another matter for someone who has successfully achieved a pregnancy in the past having to come to terms with a subsequent inability to conceive (secondary infertility). When this happens, it raises issues of guilt, a declining sense of self-worth and ultimately self-recrimination. The ramifications often impact family relationships involving partners and siblings. The truth is that secondary infertility can be just as difficult for individuals and family to deal with as primary infertility.
    There are many factors that contribute to the problem of secondary infertility. These include:
    Social and marital factors: In this modern day and age where at least one in two marriages ends in divorce, it is not surprising that there would be an inevitable hiatus in childbearing. This often results in a considerable delay in re-initiating family building. Since the biological clock keeps on ticking in the interim, advancing age can, and often does, have a profound affect on a woman’s ability to subsequently conceive and successfully complete a pregnancy. In my experience, this is one of the most common reasons for secondary infertility. In addition, by the time a decision is made to enter a new relationship, many men and women will have undergone a prior sterilization procedure which now needs to be addressed. To make matters worse, many such men and women first opt for surgical reversal of their occlusive surgery, only to learn in the end that the procedures were not successful, and they now need to consider in vitro fertilization (IVF) in one form or another.
    Financial factors: Here, the cost of raising a child often weighs heavily, especially in this present tough economic climate. This is becoming more of an issue as women playing an ever increasing role as a primary bread winner.
    Career demands: There can be little doubt that when it comes to climbing the career ladder, women are considerably disadvantaged by the fact that pregnancy and the immediate demands of child rearing take away from their ability to compete with men. As such, many women choose to delay having another child until such time as they have been able to make up for prior lost opportunity.
    Medical barriers to fertility: Certain common medical conditions, while not absolutely precluding pregnancy, make it much more difficult to conceive.
    Endometriosis: It is not uncommon for women with endometriosis to achieve a pregnancy, but find difficulty in doing so again at a later date. The reason for this is that while most women with endometriosis have patent fallopian tubes, the environment surrounding their tubes is compromised due to pelvic toxins that are produced by the endometriotic implants. These toxins compromise egg fertilization potential, making it more difficult for sperm in the fallopian tube to fertilize the egg upon its arrival there. As such, endometriosis is one of the commonest causes of secondary infertility.
    Tubal damage due to prior pelvic inflammatory disease: In first world countries, the early and often indiscriminate use of antibiotics for the slightest symptom has led to the point where an acute attack of pelvic inflammatory disease is often masked. As such, less than 30% of American women with tubal damage have knowledge that their tubes are compromised and that they might have subsequent difficulty in conceiving. Since, in many such cases the tubal damage will not have totally blocked both tubes, some of the women so affected might experience a pregnancy but have difficulty in conceiving again later down the line.
    Dysfunctional ovulation: Since ovulation as well as normal hormonal support of the early implanting embryo are both essential for a healthy pregnancy to occur, it follows that women with irregular or dysfunctional ovulation (e.g., polycystic ovarian syndrome – PCOS, persistent follicular luteal phase deficiencies or post birth control pill ovulatory problems) might sporadically conceive and thereupon find it difficult to do achieve another pregnancy later on.
    Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID): has become ever more apparent that immunologic factors play an important role in achieving healthy implantation. Women with endometriosis (regardless of its severity), those with a personal or family history of autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid autoimmunity (TAI), and some cases where the man and the woman share certain genetic similarities (alloimmune implantation dysfunction), will have activated CTL/NK cells that can inhibit or compromise healthy implantation. This is an often overlooked cause of secondary infertility. Most such autoimmune/alloimmune cases require selective immunotherapy and IVF.
    Antisperm Antibodies: Although infrequent, some cases of secondary infertility might also be caused by the woman harboring antisperm antibodies. In such cases IVF is mandated.
    Previous post-pregnancy uterine infection: Retention of products of conception after the birth of a child, miscarriage, or abortion can so damage the uterine lining as to result in subsequent implantation failure. Unless specifically looked for, this will usually be unknown to the patient, who will simply present with secondary infertility. Treatment is often difficult because such patients might not respond adequately to surgical removal of intrauterine scar tissue or to hormonal or Viagra therapy
    Male immunologic factors: Most men who have undergone a previous vasectomy more than 10 years earlier, will have antisperm antibodies that will interfere with fertilization. Such cases require IVF with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Here we offer a few words of caution to men who are considering undergoing surgical reversal of vasectomy. Always first have a test done to exclude the presence of circulating antisperm antibodies, because in such cases, even if the reversal is successfully performed, they will not be able to initiate a pregnancy without IVF/ICSI.
    Whatever the cause, secondary infertility often affects older couples disproportionately, creating a sense of urgency and even desperation in achieving a viable pregnancy before time runs out. It is for this reason that IVF becomes the treatment of choice in such cases. However, even IVF becomes progressively less successful with advancing age of the woman (whose eggs are being fertilized). In such cases it is important for the couple to be realistic with regard to their expectations. Here, options that include embryo banking and egg donation should be carefully considered.
    Another important point is that whenever a regularly ovulating younger woman (under 36 years of age) with patent fallopian tubes is diagnosed with secondary infertility, it is essential to consider underlying endometriosis or non-obstructive tubal disease as a possible cause. In such cases, IVF is again the treatment of choice.

    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
    • Ovarian Stimulation in Women Who have Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR): Introducing the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion protocol
    • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
    • 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
    • Intrauterine Insemination (IUI): Who Needs it & who Does Not: Pro’s & Con’s!
    • Micro-IVF: Often Preferable to Ovarian Stimulation with or Without IUI
    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.

Ask a question or post a comment