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“Unexplained” Infertility : Often a matter of the Diagnosis Being Overlooked!

by Dr. Geoffrey Sher on August 8, 2016

For about 10% of all infertile couples, the cause of the infertility cannot be readily determined using conventional diagnostic methods. Such cases are often referred to as “unexplained infertility.” The truth however is that in most such cases, the diagnosis of “unexplained infertility is in fact presumptive because a more in-depth evaluation would have revealed a cause. This having been said, people diagnosed with so called “unexplained infertility” fall into two broad groups:

a) Those couples who don’t have any biological problems interfering with pregnancy.

b) Those who do but the reason cannot be found due to insufficient medical information or technology. It is in this latter group that improved testing techniques have made infertility easier to diagnose and treat.

In order to make even a presumptive diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” the answers to the following questions must be in the affirmative.

  • Is the woman ovulating normally?
  • Is the couple having intercourse regularly in the periovulatory phase of the cycle?
  • Are the fallopian tubes normal and open?
  • Can endometriosis be excluded?
  • Does the male partner have normal semen parameters (most specifically with regard to sperm count and motility?
  • Is the post coital (Huhner) test (periovulatory examination of cervical mucous, done 6-18 hours after intercourse) normal?

The definitive diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” has a lot to do with the thoroughness of the health care provider in excluding all possible causes. The fewer tests performed, the more likely a presumptive diagnosis

For Example:

  • Abnormalities of the fallopian tubes (adhesions or developmental defects) of the finger-like “petals” at their outer ends of the tubes that help sweep eggs inside (i.e. fimbriae). can prevent eggs from being collected and transported to the awaiting sperm
  • Chromosomal abnormalities of eggs or embryos: Eggs must be euploid (contain the right number of chromosomes) to be successfully fertilized and embryos must also be euploid in order to implant successfully in the uterine lining. Until recently there was no reliable method for determining whether eggs and embryos were euploid. The recent introduction of genetic tests such as comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) now allows for identification of all chromosomes in the egg and embryo. As such CGH represents an important addition to the “infertility” diagnostic armamentarium.
  • Luteinized Unruptured Follicle (LUF) Syndrome: Here, the eggs can become trapped in the follicle and not be released (trapped ovulation) In such cases routine tests done to detect ovulation ((temperature charting, Urine LH testing, Blood progesterone levels) may be normal resulting in false interpretation that ovulation is actually occurring.
  • Ovulation (hormonal) Dysfunction: Abnormalities in ovarian hormone production in the preovulatory phase of the cycle (follicular phase defect) and/or in the postovulatory phase (luteal phase defect) can negatively affect preparation of the uterine lining (endometrium), thus thwarting normal implantation.
  • Immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID): Sometimes, the woman’s or the man’s own immune system can attack sperm cells, killing them or causing them to become immobilized. Also, immunologic dysfunction involving the uterine lining can cause the implanting embryo to be rejected so early that the woman does not even recognize that she in fact had conceived.
  • Cervical infection; Ureaplasma urealyticum infection of the cervical glands can prevent sperm from migrating through the cervix and uterus to reach the egg(s) in the fallopian tube(s). Such infection will usually not be detectable through routine examination and/or cervical culturing methods.
  • Mild or Moderate Endometriosis: Endometriosis is in 100% of cases associated with the production of “pelvic toxins” that reduce the fertilization potential of otherwise normal eggs by a factor of 3-5. In addition, about 1/3 of woman with endometriosis (regardless of its severity) have immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID). Furthermore mild and often even moderately severe endometriosis can only be accurately diagnosed by direct visualization of the lesions through laparoscopy or laparotomy and, the detection of IID requires highly sophisticated tests that can only be adequately performed by a handful of Reproductive Immunology Reference Laboratories in the United States. Finally, a condition called nonpigmented endometriosis, in which the endometrium may be growing inside the pelvic cavity with many of the same deleterious effects as overt endometriosis, cannot be detected even by direct vision (at laparoscopy/laparotomy). The fertility of these patients may be every bit as compromised as if they had detectable endometriosis.
  • Psychological Factors: The entire reproductive process is governed by the brain. Thus it should come as no surprise that stress and negativity can interfere with hormonal balance and decrease the ability to conceive.
  • Mild Male Factor
  • Antisperm antibodies in the man or woman.

Management:

Successful management of “Unexplained Infertility” requires that a very individualized approach be taken. Wherever possible the underlying cause should first be identified. Problems that involve ovulation dysfunction (hormonal imbalance) require ovulation induction with oral or injectable fertility drugs. Cervical mucous hostility due to infection with ureaplasma (which is transferred back and forth sexually to both partners) requires specific and concurrent antibiotic therapy. In other cases involving younger women (under 39 years) where there is a problem with sperm migration via the cervix and uterus to the fallopian tube(s) intrauterine insemination (IUI) with or without ovulation induction, is indicated. When these treatments fail, in cases, women over the age of 39 years, in women with IID, in men or women who harbor antisperm antibodies in significant concentrations and in cases associated with tubal abnormalities, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is needed. All cases of intractable, moderate or severe male infertility call for injecting sperm directly into the egg to achieve forced fertilization (intracytoplasmic sperm injection-ICSI).

It is an indisputable fact that most causes of infertility can be diagnosed and it is a great pity that the diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” is often used as an excuse for not having performed a full and detailed evaluation of the problem. Couples should not simply accept a diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” at face value since treatment is most likely to be successful when the specific cause of the problem can be fully identified.

8 comments

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  • Cindy - January 23, 2017 reply

    I am 36 years old and have gone through 2 IVF cycyles. I have gone through all of the required testing and everything came back great. My AMH level is 2.2 but my antral follicle count seems to come in around 3-4 follicles. My doctor believes my ovaries are acting older than they should. For my first cycle I was on the BCP for 28 days and then began stimulating with 300iu of Follistim and 2 amps of Menopur. By day 8 I was increased to 3 amps of Menopur and began Cetrotide. That cycle yielded 6 eggs, 2 were biopsied and only 1 came back normal. My second cycle began with 28 days on BCP cyclce followed by 5ius microdose Lupron, 300ius Follistim and 2 amps of Menopur. It yielded the same results. Am I being over surpressed by the BCP?

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher - January 24, 2017 reply

    One often hears the expressed opinion that the BCP suppresses response to ovarian stimulation. This is not the case, provided that the BCP is overlapped with administration of an agonist (e.g. Lupron, Buserelin, Superfact) for several days leading up to the start of menstruation and the initiation of ovarian stimulation cycle with gonadotropin drugs. If the latter precaution is not taken, and the cycle of stimulation is initiated coming directly off the BCP the response will often be blunted and subsequent egg quality could be adversely affected. The explanation for this is that in natural (unstimulated) as well as in cycles stimulated with fertility drugs, the ability of follicles to properly respond to FSH stimulation is dependent on their having developed FSH-responsive receptors . Pre-antral follicles (PAF) do not have such primed FSH receptors and thus cannot respond properly to FSH stimulation with gonadotropins. The acquisition of FSH receptor responsivity requires that the pre-antral follicles be exposed to FSH, for a number of days (5-7) during which time they attain “FSH-responsivity” and are now known as antral follicles (AF). These AF’s are now able to respond properly to stimulation with administered FSH-gonadotropins. In regular menstrual cycles, the rising FSH output from the pituitary gland insures that PAFs convert tor AF’s. The BCP (as well as prolonged administration of estrogen/progesterone) suppresses FSH. This suppression needs to be countered by artificially causing blood FSH levels to rise in order to cause PAF to AF conversion prior to COS commencing, otherwise pre-antral-to –antral follicle conversion will not take place in an orderly fashion, the duration of ovarian stimulation will be prolonged and both follicle and egg development may be compromised. GnRH agonists (e.g. Lupron, Buserelin, Superfact) , cause an immediate surge in release of FSH by the pituitary gland thus causing conversion from PAF to SAF. This is why, women who take a BCP to launch a cycle of COS need to have an overlap of the BCP with an agonist. By overlapping the BCP with an agonist for a few days prior to menstruation the early recruited follicles are able to complete their developmental drive to the AF stage and as such, be ready to respond appropriately to optimal ovarian stimulation. Using this approach, the timing of the initiation of the IVF treatment cycle can readily and safely be regulated and controlled by varying the length of time that the woman is on the BCP.
    Since optimizing follicular response to COS requires that prior to stimulation with gonadotropins, FSH-induced conversion from PAF to AF’s first be completed and the BCP suppresses FSH, it follows when it comes to women launching COS coming off a BCP something needs to be done to cause a rise in FSH for 5-7 days prior to menstruation heralding the cycle of CO S.This is where overlapping the BCP with an agonist (e.g. Lupron/Superfact/Buserelin) comes in. The agonist causes FSH to be released by the pituitary gland and if overlapped with the BCP for several days and this will (within 2-5 days) facilitate PAF to AF conversion…. in time to start COS with the onset of menstruation. Initiating ovarian stimulation in women taking a BCP, without doing this is suboptimal
    I believe it to be essential regardless of the protocol of COS protocol being contemplated, for women who launching ovarian stimulation coming off a BCP to overlap with an agonist for several days in advance of initiating ovarian stimulation with the onset of menstruation,

    In my opinion, the protocol used for ovarian stimulation, against the backdrop of age, and ovarian reserve are the drivers of egg quality and egg quality is the most important factor affecting embryo “competency”.
    Women 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 effect of DOR, certain ovarian stimulation regimes, by promoting excessive LH production (e.g. short agonist/Lupron- “flare” protocols, clomiphene and Letrozole), can in my opinion, 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 women 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 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
    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.

  • Fiona Skinner - September 6, 2016 reply

    Hello there – you really inspire me with your thorough investigative approach – no wonder if is successful. I’m a 43 year old woman who has undergone 1 round of fresh IVF and I also used frozen eggs from when I was 38 years old. I had 3 implanted and 2 implanted and miscarried at 8 weeks. I did a natural cycle to use the frozen embryos and they found that on day 20 of my cycle my oestrogen plummeted and actually I feel this in myself as my mood changes like PMT every month. My progesterone goes up very quickly and I have heavy periods and v thick lining. Do you think this hormone drop of oestrogen is why I never got pregnant – do I need sufficient oestrogen for successful implantation? Doesn’t really explain why the embryos implanted and then miscarried but it may explain why I’ve never got pregnant naturally? Interested in your expert view. Could this oestrogen drop explain why my pregnancies started well under IVF and then everything seemed to go wrong. Thank-you very much Dr Sher.

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher - September 6, 2016 reply

    Thank you.

    The hormone drop could well point towards premature luteinization. This has an adverse effect on egg development and relates usually to diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) being addressed with a less than ide3al protocol for ovarian stimulation…see Bellow!\

    Older women as well as those who (regardless of age) have diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) tend to produce fewer and less “competent” eggs, the main reason for reduced IVF success in such cases. The compromised outcome is largely due to the fact that such women tend to have increased LH biological activity which often results in excessive LH-induced ovarian testosterone production which in turn can have a deleterious effect on egg/embryo “competency”.
    Certain ovarian stimulation regimes either promote excessive LH production (e.g. short agonist/Lupron- “flare” protocols, clomiphene and Letrozole), augment LH/hCG delivered through additional administration (e.g. high dosage menotropins such as Menopur), or fail to protect against body’s own/self-produced LH (e.g. late antagonist protocols where drugs such as Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron that are first administered 6-7 days after ovarian stimulation has commenced).
    I try to avoid using such protocols/regimes (especially) in older women and those with DOR, favoring instead the use of a modified, long pituitary down-regulation protocol (the agonist/antagonist conversion protocol-A/ACP) augmented by adding supplementary human growth hormone (HGH). I further recommend Staggered IVF with embryo banking of PGS (next generation gene sequencing/NGS)-normal blastocysts in such cases. This type of approach will in my opinion, optimize the chance of a viable pregnancy per embryo transfer procedure and provide an opportunity to capitalize on whatever residual ovarian reserve and egg quality still exists, allowing the chance to “make hay while the sun still shines”.
    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.
    • 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)
    • 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?
    • 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
    • Implications of “Empty Follicle Syndrome and “Premature Luteinization”
    • Premature Luteinization (“the premature LH surge): Why it happens and how it can be prevented.

    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.
    Geoff Sher

  • Kate harding - August 27, 2016 reply

    My husband and I are 37. Have had 10 ET 2 fresh 8 frozen. 4 resulted in pregnancies. 1 mc @ 18 weeks (autopsy revealed no genetic issues) 1 mc at 8 weeks, 2 mc at 5 weeks (with PGD & immune treatment) My husband has low SC and I have endo, and have had blood clots in both legs before. I had a polyp removed March 2015. Is there any hope?

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher - August 27, 2016 reply

    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
    • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
    • 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
    • Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL): Why do I keep losing my Pregnancies
    • Hereditary Clotting Defects (Thrombophilia)
    • 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)
    • Intralipid (IL) Administration in IVF: It’s Composition; How it Works; Administration; Side-effects; Reactions and Precautions
    • 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
    • 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.

  • Shaniqua wells - August 17, 2016 reply

    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

    I responded to this post yesterday…I believe.

    Geoff Sher

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