The IVF Journey: The importance of “Planning the Trip” Before “Taking the Ride”

The objective with In Vitro Fertilization is to consistently transfer competent embryos into a receptive uterine environment. This requires a very individualized and meticulous approach to evaluating and addressing those factors that can influence IVF outcome: All patients/couples should learn what they can reasonably expect before committing to IVF. And finally, is important for patients/couples to have realistic expectations and to “plan the trip” before embarking on the IVF journey

While it is true that it will often take more than one IVF attempt to achieve a successful outcome, it is not good enough to simply advance this argument as a reason to just “keep on trying. Ninety percent of my personal IVF practice involves treating patients who have experienced two or more prior IVF failures. Some had undergone more than 10 failures and believe it or not, in one case the couple had failed more than twenty prior attempts. A common thread that often underlying such heartbreaks is  the failure to thoroughly plan the IVF journey before embarking on it.

Preparing for IVF requires a very individualized approach. It is important to understand that each patient/couple is different and that a “one size fits all, ‘recipe approach is inappropriate.

  1. Evaluation of medical suitability for IVF: The Hippocratic doctrine says “do no harm”. This means that every patient /couple must be carefully assessed medically and psychologically in advance of undergoing IVF in order to identify potential health hazards that could be revealed in the course of a cycle of treatment or during an ensuing pregnancy. For example: a) very young women, and those that don’t menstruate or ovulate regularly on their own are at inordinate risk of developing life endangering complications associated with severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) following administration of fertility drugs and require modified treatment regimes, b) women with certain hereditary blood clotting disorders ( thrombophilia) are at much greater risk of early and late pregnancy complications and require specific treatments as soon as pregnancy is diagnosed, c) Women with cardiovascular disease or hypertension are at greater risk of developing pregnancy related complications that can compromise their well being as well as that of their baby(ies) d) Some women have hidden bleeding disorders due to blood platelet disorders or abnormalities in certain blood clotting defects which if undiagnosed can lead to serious complications during egg retrieval, e) The presence of active viral and bacterial sexually transmittable diseases should be identified and if possible treated in advance. In some cases where the risk of transmission to partner of baby cannot be avoided, detailed advance disclosure and counseling is essential. These are but a few examples to illustrate the point .There are many, others.
  2. Defining the cause of the infertility: About one third of infertility is due to female causes, one third due to male sperm dysfunction and the remaining third is due to a combination of both male and female factors. In addition, there is very often more than a single female (or male) factor contributing to the problem. To ignore this reality, can be perilous. Here are a few examples: a) one third of women who have endometriosis also have a concomitant immunologic implantation problem. In such cases, the performance of IVF without appropriate selective immunotherapy will usually lead to failure; b) Tubal damage necessitating IVF is sometimes associated with internal uterine scarring and a poor endometrial thickening. By-passing the tubal issue through IVF will usually not achieve a viable pregnancy unless the uterine lining can be improved concomitantly.
  3. Timing of treatment: With a few exceptions, women who have very diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) and accordingly are usually poor responders to fertility drugs, and require repeated IVF attempts need at least one full resting cycle before undergoing a repeat attempt.
  4. Selecting the ideal protocol for ovarian stimulation: Most IVF failure to is attributable to “poor embryo quality.” In many cases, irreversible factors such as advanced maternal age or severe and often intractable male infertility often are at the root of this problem. However, poor embryo quality mostly stems from poor egg quality which in turn is it is due to poor egg development in advance of administering the hCG trigger. This boils down to the selection of suboptimal protocols for ovarian stimulation and inappropriate timing of the administration of the hCG “trigger.
  5. Resorting to Staggered IVF with Embryo banking and preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) to try and offset the biological clock: 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 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
  6. Moving to third party parenting: There comes a time when it is necessary to decide whether to solicit the assistance of an egg donor or a gestational surrogate or whether to stop trying.  Menopausal and premenopausal women of any age and women over 43 (for whom the chance of successful IVF using own eggs is very small) should be advised to move to egg donation. Women with serious health hazards that contraindicate pregnancy and those who do not have functional uteri or who have an intractable immunologic or anatomical implantation dysfunction should consider using a gestational carrier. Likewise, there should be a timely recommendation for sperm donation made to men who have incurable absence of sperm production and those with intractable severe sperm dysfunction.

 

8 Comments

Rebecca

Hi Dr Sher. I really enjoy your blog and get a lot out of reading it. I am 44yo (husband is 55yo) and we have had 9 cycles of IVF. We plan to stop in July when I turn 45 as the hospital’s proticol supports women only to their 45th birthday. We have 2 frozen embryos – 1 passed PGS as genetically competent. The other was not able to be tested at day 5 but was frozen nonetheless. We have had several embryos get to blastocyst but fail PGS due to single or multiple chromosomal errors. I still have good egg numbers (last cycle we collected 17 eggs, 13 mature, 12 fertilised, but only 3 made it to day 4/5 but stopped growing). Our best outcomes to date have been with Gonal F 300, orgalutran 250, typically getting 16-25 eggs, about 60% fertilise nornally though few making it to blastocyst. I have had a go at DHEA for 3 cycles – the 1st month on DHEA resulted in our 1 good embryo, but the following 2 cycles had poor outcomes with less eggs, multiple errors so I stopped. We tried a down regulation cycle with microgynon for a month, gonal f 300, and synarel, but only 4 eggs were collected, all fertilised but none made it to day 5. We are going bavk to our usual protocol. I appreciate that it would be my age resulting in compromised egg quality, but is there anything else I can do to improve outcomes before considering donor eggs? I really just want to give us the best chance and miss nothing. We have enough regrets already without compounding them with further mistakes or missed opportunities. Any advice you could provide would be terrific. I have started seeing a nutritionist/naturopath as well to see if that might gice us a boost! Thanks again for your advice, I really appreciate it. Rebecca

reply
Dr. Geoffrey Sher

No doubt, since you have had several chromosomally normal embryos transferred without a successful outcome, it is very likely that aside from the age factor affecting egg/embryo quality, something is likely to be also compromising implantation. In my opinion, you need to consider Staggered VF with embryo banking of PGS normal embryos, but separately, you need to evaluate for an anatomical and/or immunologic implantation dysfunction.
Whenever a patient fails to achieve a viable pregnancy following embryo transfer (ET), the first question asked is why! Was it simply due to, bad luck?, How likely is the failure to recur in future attempts and what can be done differently, to avoid it happening next time?.
It is an indisputable fact that any IVF procedure is at least as likely to fail as it is to succeed. Thus when it comes to outcome, luck is an undeniable factor. Notwithstanding, it is incumbent upon the treating physician to carefully consider and address the causes of IVF failure before proceeding to another attempt:
1. Age: The chance of a woman under 35Y of age having a baby per embryo transfer is about 35-40%. From there it declines progressively to under 5% by the time she reaches her mid-forties. This is largely due to declining chromosomal integrity of the eggs with advancing age…”a wear and tear effect” on eggs that are in the ovaries from birth.
2. Embryo Quality/”competency (capable of propagating a viable pregnancy)”. As stated, the woman’s age plays a big role in determining egg/embryo quality/”competency”. This having been said, aside from age the protocol used for controlled ovarian stimulation (COS) is the next most important factor. It is especially important when it comes to older women, and women with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) where it becomes essential to be aggressive, and to customize and individualize the ovarian stimulation protocol.
We used to believe that the uterine environment is more beneficial to embryo development than is the incubator/petri dish and that accordingly, the earlier on in development that embryos are transferred to the uterus, the better. To achieve this goal, we used to select embryos for transfer based upon their day two or microscopic appearance (“grade”). But we have since learned that the further an embryo has advanced in its development, the more likely it is to be “competent” and that embryos failing to reach the expanded blastocyst stage within 5-6 days of being fertilized are almost invariably “incompetent” and are unworthy of being transferred. Moreover, the introduction into clinical practice about a decade ago, (by Levent Keskintepe PhD and myself) of Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS), which assesses for the presence of all the embryos chromosomes (complete chromosomal karyotyping), provides another tool by which to select the most “competent” embryos for transfer. This methodology has selective benefit when it comes to older women, women with DOR, cases of unexplained repeated IVF failure and women who experience recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL).
3. The number of the embryos transferred: Most patients believe that the more embryos transferred the greater the chance of success. To some extent this might be true, but if the problem lies with the use of a suboptimal COS protocol, transferring more embryos at a time won’t improve the chance of success. Nor will the transfer of a greater number of embryos solve an underlying embryo implantation dysfunction (anatomical molecular or immunologic).Moreover, the transfer of multiple embryos, should they implant, can and all too often does result in triplets or greater (high order multiples) which increases the incidence of maternal pregnancy-induced complications and of premature delivery with its serious risks to the newborn. It is for this reason that I rarely recommend the transfer of more than 2 embryos at a time and am moving in the direction of advising single embryo transfers …especially when it comes to transferring embryos derived through the fertilization of eggs from young women.
4. Implantation Dysfunction (ID): Implantation dysfunction is a very common (often overlooked) cause of “unexplained” IVF failure. This is especially the case in young ovulating women who have normal ovarian reserve and have fertile partners. Failure to identify, typify, and address such issues is, in my opinion, an unfortunate and relatively common cause of repeated IVF failure in such women. Common sense dictates that if ultrasound guided embryo transfer is performed competently and yet repeated IVF attempts fail to propagate a viable pregnancy, implantation dysfunction must be seriously considered. Yet ID is probably the most overlooked factor. The most common causes of implantation dysfunction are:
a. A“ thin uterine lining”
b. A uterus with surface lesions in the cavity (polyps, fibroids, scar tissue)
c. Immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID)
d. Endocrine/molecular endometrial receptivity issues
Certain causes of infertility are repetitive and thus cannot readily be reversed. Examples include advanced age of the woman; severe male infertility; immunologic infertility associated with alloimmune implantation dysfunction (especially if it is a “complete DQ alpha genetic match between partners plus uterine natural killer cell activation (NKa).
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.
• 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.
• 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
• IVF: How Many Attempts should be considered before Stopping?
• “Unexplained” Infertility: Often a matter of the Diagnosis Being Overlooked!
• 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
• Treating Out-of-State and Out-of-Country Patients at Sher-IVF in Las Vegas:
• A personalized, stepwise approach to IVF
• How Many Embryos should be transferred: A Critical Decision in IVF.
• • IVF: Selecting the Best Quality Embryos to Transfer
• 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
• IVF: The first Choice for Infertile Women 40 to 43 Years of Age!
. 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.

reply
Rebecca

Thank you again Dr Sher – I will speak to my husband about a possible consult. I really appreciate the time you take to care for all our queries from across the globe!!

reply
Bbmama

Dr. Sher, thank you for your very informative blog. I am 39, endometriosis and DOR with FSH 7, AMH 11 and AFC 11. IVF retrievals have been 22 eggs( 9 fertilized, 2 euploid and unsuccessful), 12 eggs(2 fertilized and successful 3 day transfer with intralipid and Lovenox and prednisone ), 10 eggs (2 fertilized and unsuccessful) . These cycles were bcp and long Lupron. Next cycles were testerone & estrogen priming 8 eggs (2 fertilized, 1 frozen that didn’t survive), and last was estrogen priming only back to back with previous cycle 10 eggs 2 fertilized, made it to day 5. FET of both done they were hatching with intralipid and Lovenox and prednisone chemical pregnancy. Should I give up? What do you think of augment? Could my protocols be issue or its just my egg quality and that’s that? I know you can’t make specific recommendations but just general thoughts? Thanks in advance

reply
Dr. Geoffrey Sher

I would not simply give up . It sounds like a possible immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID), but it could be alloimmune or autoimmune and treatment differs between the two. This needs to be carefully assessed and addressed.

Whenever a patient fails to achieve a viable pregnancy following embryo transfer (ET), the first question asked is why! Was it simply due to, bad luck?, How likely is the failure to recur in future attempts and what can be done differently, to avoid it happening next time?.
It is an indisputable fact that any IVF procedure is at least as likely to fail as it is to succeed. Thus when it comes to outcome, luck is an undeniable factor. Notwithstanding, it is incumbent upon the treating physician to carefully consider and address the causes of IVF failure before proceeding to another attempt:
1. Age: The chance of a woman under 35Y of age having a baby per embryo transfer is about 35-40%. From there it declines progressively to under 5% by the time she reaches her mid-forties. This is largely due to declining chromosomal integrity of the eggs with advancing age…”a wear and tear effect” on eggs that are in the ovaries from birth.
2. Embryo Quality/”competency (capable of propagating a viable pregnancy)”. As stated, the woman’s age plays a big role in determining egg/embryo quality/”competency”. This having been said, aside from age the protocol used for controlled ovarian stimulation (COS) is the next most important factor. It is especially important when it comes to older women, and women with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) where it becomes essential to be aggressive, and to customize and individualize the ovarian stimulation protocol.
We used to believe that the uterine environment is more beneficial to embryo development than is the incubator/petri dish and that accordingly, the earlier on in development that embryos are transferred to the uterus, the better. To achieve this goal, we used to select embryos for transfer based upon their day two or microscopic appearance (“grade”). But we have since learned that the further an embryo has advanced in its development, the more likely it is to be “competent” and that embryos failing to reach the expanded blastocyst stage within 5-6 days of being fertilized are almost invariably “incompetent” and are unworthy of being transferred. Moreover, the introduction into clinical practice about a decade ago, (by Levent Keskintepe PhD and myself) of Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS), which assesses for the presence of all the embryos chromosomes (complete chromosomal karyotyping), provides another tool by which to select the most “competent” embryos for transfer. This methodology has selective benefit when it comes to older women, women with DOR, cases of unexplained repeated IVF failure and women who experience recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL).
3. The number of the embryos transferred: Most patients believe that the more embryos transferred the greater the chance of success. To some extent this might be true, but if the problem lies with the use of a suboptimal COS protocol, transferring more embryos at a time won’t improve the chance of success. Nor will the transfer of a greater number of embryos solve an underlying embryo implantation dysfunction (anatomical molecular or immunologic).Moreover, the transfer of multiple embryos, should they implant, can and all too often does result in triplets or greater (high order multiples) which increases the incidence of maternal pregnancy-induced complications and of premature delivery with its serious risks to the newborn. It is for this reason that I rarely recommend the transfer of more than 2 embryos at a time and am moving in the direction of advising single embryo transfers …especially when it comes to transferring embryos derived through the fertilization of eggs from young women.
4. Implantation Dysfunction (ID): Implantation dysfunction is a very common (often overlooked) cause of “unexplained” IVF failure. This is especially the case in young ovulating women who have normal ovarian reserve and have fertile partners. Failure to identify, typify, and address such issues is, in my opinion, an unfortunate and relatively common cause of repeated IVF failure in such women. Common sense dictates that if ultrasound guided embryo transfer is performed competently and yet repeated IVF attempts fail to propagate a viable pregnancy, implantation dysfunction must be seriously considered. Yet ID is probably the most overlooked factor. The most common causes of implantation dysfunction are:
a. A“ thin uterine lining”
b. A uterus with surface lesions in the cavity (polyps, fibroids, scar tissue)
c. Immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID)
d. Endocrine/molecular endometrial receptivity issues
Certain causes of infertility are repetitive and thus cannot readily be reversed. Examples include advanced age of the woman; severe male infertility; immunologic infertility associated with alloimmune implantation dysfunction (especially if it is a “complete DQ alpha genetic match between partners plus uterine natural killer cell activation (NKa).
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.
• 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.
• 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
• IVF: How Many Attempts should be considered before Stopping?
• “Unexplained” Infertility: Often a matter of the Diagnosis Being Overlooked!
• 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
• Treating Out-of-State and Out-of-Country Patients at Sher-IVF in Las Vegas:
• 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.

reply
Tara

Does Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome contribute to egg quality issues? Also what about extremely low vitamin B12 and compound heterozygous MTHFR?

reply
Dr. Geoffrey Sher

I do not believe these to be factors that would impact egg quality/competency.

The potential for a woman’s eggs to undergo orderly development and maturation, while in large part being genetically determined can be profoundly influenced by the woman’s age, her “ovarian reserve” and proximity to menopause. It is also influenced by the protocol used for controlled ovarian stimulation (COH) which by fashioning the intra-ovarian hormonal environment, profoundly impacts egg development and maturation.
After the menarche (age at which menstruation starts) a monthly process of repeatedly processing eggs continues until the menopause, by which time most eggs will have been used up, and ovulation and menstruation cease. When the number of eggs remaining in the ovaries falls below a certain threshold, ovarian function starts to wane over a 5 to10-years. This time period is referred to as the climacteric. With the onset of the climacteric, blood Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and later also Luteinizing Hormone (LH) levels begin to rise…. at first slowly and then more rapidly, ultimately culminating in the complete cessation of ovulation and menstruation (i.e. menopause).

One of the early indications that the woman has entered the climacteric and that ovarian reserve is diminishing DOR) , is the detection of a basal blood FSH level above 9.0 MIU/ml and/ or an AMH level og <2.0ng/ml.
Prior to the changes that immediately precede ovulation, virtually all human eggs have 23 pairs (i.e. 46) of chromosomes. Thirty six to forty hours prior to ovulation, a surge occurs in the release of LH by the pituitary gland. One of the main e purposes of this LH surge is to cause the chromosomes in the egg to divide n half (to 23 in number) in order that once fertilized by a mature sperm ends up having 23 chromosomes) the resulting embryo will be back to having 46 chromosomes. A “competent” mature egg is one that has precisely 23 chromosomes, not any more or any less. It is largely the egg, rather than the sperm that determines the chromosomal integrity of the embryo and only an embryo that has a normal component of 46 chromosomes (i.e. euploid) is “competent” to develop into a healthy baby. If for any reason the final number of chromosomes in the egg is less or more than 23 (aneuploid), it will be incapable of propagating a euploid, “competent” embryo. Thus egg/embryo aneuploidy (“incompetence”) is the leading cause of human reproductive dysfunction which can manifest as: arrested embryo development and/or failed implantation (which often presents as infertility), early miscarriage or chromosomal birth defects (e.g. Down’s syndrome). While most aneuploid (“incompetent”) embryos often fail to produce a pregnancy, some do. However, most such pregnancies miscarry early on. On relatively rare occasions, depending on the chromosome pair involved, aneuploid embryos can develop into chromosomally defective babies (e.g. Down’s syndrome).

Up until a woman reaches her mid- thirties, at best, 1:2 of her eggs will likely be chromosomally normal. As she ages beyond her mid-thirties there will be a a progressive decline in egg quality such that by age 40 years only about 15%-20% of eggs are euploid and, by the time the woman reaches her mid-forties, less than 10% of her eggs are likely to be chromosomally normal. While most aneuploid embryos do appear to be microscopically abnormal under the light microscope, this is not invariably so. In fact, many aneuploid embryos a have a perfectly normal appearance under the microscope. This is why it is not possible to reliably differentiate between competent and incompetent embryos on the basis of their microscopic appearance (morphologic grade) alone.

The process of natural selection usually precludes most aneuploid embryos from attaching to the uterine lining. Those that do attach usually do so for such only a brief period of time. In such cases the woman often will not even experience a postponement of menstruation. There will be a transient rise in blood hCG levels but in most cases the woman will be unaware of even having conceived (i.e. a “chemical pregnancy”). Alternatively, an aneuploid embryo might attach for a period of a few weeks before being expelled (i.e. a “miscarriage”). Sometimes (fortunately rarely) an aneuploid embryo will develop into a viable baby that is born with a chromosomal birth defect (e.g. Down’s syndrome).
The fact that the incidence of embryo aneuploidy invariably increases with advancing age serves to explain why reproductive failure (“infertility”, miscarriages and birth defects), also increases as women get older.

It is an over-simplification to represent that diminishing ovarian reserve as evidenced by raised FSH blood levels (and other tests) and reduced response to stimulation with fertility drugs is a direct cause of “poor egg/ embryo quality”. This common misconception stems from the fact that poor embryo quality (“incompetence”) often occurs in women who at the same time, because of the advent of the climacteric also have elevated basal blood FSH/LH levels and reduced AMH. But it is not the elevation in FSH or the low AMH that causes embryo “incompetence”. Rather it is the effect of advancing age (the “biological clock”) resulting a progressive increase in the incidence of egg aneuploidy, which is responsible for declining egg quality. Simply stated, as women get older “wear and tear” on their eggs increases the likelihood of egg and thus embryo aneuploidy. It just so happens that the two precipitating factors often go hand in hand.

The importance of the IVF stimulation protocol on egg/embryo quality cannot be overstated. This factor seems often to be overlooked or discounted by those IVF practitioners who use a “one-size-fits-all” approach to ovarian stimulation. My experience is that the use of individualized/customized COS protocols can greatly improve IVF outcome in patients at risk – particularly those with diminished ovarian reserve (“poor responders”) and those who are “high responders” (women with PCOS , those with dysfunctional or absent ovulation, and young women under 25 years of age).
While no one can influence underlying genetics or turn back the clock on a woman’s age, any competent IVF specialist should be able to tailor the protocol for COS to meet the individual needs of the patient.
During the normal ovulation cycle, ovarian hormonal changes are regulated to avoid irregularities in production and interaction that could adversely influence follicle development and egg quality. As an example, small amounts of androgens (male hormones such as testosterone) that are produced by the ovarian stroma (the tissue surrounding ovarian follicles) during the pre-ovulatory phase of the cycle enhance late follicle development, estrogen production by the granulosa cells (cells that line the inner walls of follicles), and egg maturation.
However, over-production of testosterone can adversely influence the same processes. It follows that protocols for controlled ovarian stimulation (COS should be geared toward optimizing follicle growth and development (without placing the woman at risk from overstimulation), while at the same time avoiding excessive ovarian androgen production. Achievement of such objectives requires a very individualized approach to choosing the protocol for COS with fertility drugs as well as the precise timing of the “trigger shot” of hCG.

It is important to recognize that the pituitary gonadotropins, LH and FSH, while both playing a pivotal role in follicle development, have different primary sites of action in the ovary. The action of FSH is mainly directed towards the cells lining the inside of the follicle that are responsible for estrogen production. LH, on the other hand, acts primarily on the ovarian stroma to produce male hormones/ androgens (e.g. androstenedione and testosterone). A small amount of testosterone is necessary for optimal estrogen production. Over-production of such androgens can have a deleterious effect on granulosa cell activity, follicle growth/development, egg maturation, fertilization potential and subsequent embryo quality. Furthermore, excessive ovarian androgens can also compromise estrogen-induced endometrial growth and development.

In conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which is characterized by increased blood LH levels, there is also increased ovarian androgen production. It is therefore not surprising that “poor egg/embryo quality” is often a feature of this condition. The use of LH-containing preparations such as Menopur further aggravates this effect. Thus we recommend using FSH-dominant products such as Follistim, Puregon, and Gonal-F in such cases. While it would seem prudent to limit LH exposure in all cases of COS, this appears to be more vital in older women, who tend to be more sensitive to LH

It is common practice to administer gonadotropin releasing hormone agonists (GnRHa) agonists such as Lupron, and, GnRH-antagonists such as Ganirelix and Orgalutron to prevent the release of LH during COS. GnRH agonists exert their LH-lowering effect over a number of days. They act by causing an initial outpouring followed by a depletion of pituitary gonadotropins. This results in the LH level falling to low concentrations, within 4-7 days, thereby establishing a relatively “LH-free environment”. GnRH Antagonists, on the other hand, act very rapidly (within a few hours) to block pituitary LH release, so as achieve the same effect.

Long Agonist (Lupron/Buserelin) Protocols: The most commonly prescribed protocol for Lupron/gonadotropin administration is the so-called “long protocol”. Here, Lupron is given, starting a week or so prior to menstruation. This results in an initial rise in FSH and LH level, which is rapidly followed by a precipitous fall to near zero. It is followed by uterine withdrawal bleeding (menstruation), whereupon gonadotropin treatment is initiated while daily Lupron injections continue, to ensure a “low LH” environment. A modification to the long protocol which I prefer using in cases of DOR, is the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol (A/ACP) where, upon the onset of a Lupron-induced bleed , this agonist is supplanted by an antagonist (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) and this is continued until the hCG trigger. In many such cases I supplement with human growth hormone (HGH) to try and further enhance response and egg development.

Lupron Flare/Micro-Flare Protocol: Another approach to COS is by way of so-called “(micro) flare protocols”. This involves initiating gonadotropin therapy simultaneous with the administration of GnRH agonist (e.g. Lupron/Buserelin). The intent here is to deliberately allow Lupron to elicit an initial surge (“flare”) in pituitary FSH release in order to augment FSH administration by increased FSH production. Unfortunately, this “spring board effect” represents “a double edged sword” because while it indeed increases the release of FSH, it at the same time causes a surge in LH release. The latter can evoke excessive ovarian stromal androgen production which could potentially compromise egg quality, especially in older women and women with PCOS, whose ovaries have increased sensitivity to LH. I am of the opinion that by evoking an exaggerated ovarian androgen response, such “(micro) flare protocols” can harm egg/embryo quality and reduce IVF success rates, especially in older women, and in women with diminished ovarian reserve. Accordingly, I do not prescribe them at all.

Estrogen Priming – My approach for “Poor Responders” Our patients who have demonstrated reduced ovarian response to COS as well as those who by way of significantly raised FSH blood levels are likely to be “poor responders”, are treated using a “modified” long protocol. The approach involves the initial administration of GnRH agonist for a number of days to cause pituitary down-regulation. Upon menstruation and confirmation by ultrasound and measurement of blood estradiol levels that adequate ovarian suppression has been achieved, the dosage of GnRH agonist is drastically lowered and the woman is given twice-weekly injections of estradiol for a period of 8. COS is thereupon initiated using a relatively high dosage of FSH-(Follistim, Bravelle, Puregon or Gonal F) which is continued along with daily administration of GnRH agonist until the “hCG trigger.” By this approach we have been able to significantly improve ovarian response to gonadotropins in many of hitherto “resistant patients”.
The “Trigger”: hCG (Profasi/Pregnyl/Novarel) versus Lupron: With ovulation induction using fertility drugs, the administration of 10,000U hCGu (the hCG “trigger”) mimics the LH surge, sending the eggs (which up to that point are immature (M1) and have 46 chromosomes) into maturational division (meiosis) This process is designed to halve the chromosome number , resulting in mature eggs (M2) that will have 23 chromosomes rather that the 46 chromosomes it had prior to the “trigger”. Such a chromosomally normal, M2 egg, upon being fertilized by mature sperm (that following maturational division also has 23 chromosomes) will hopefully propagate embryos that have 46 chromosomes and will be “:competent” to propagate viable pregnancies. The key is to trigger with no less than 10,000U of hCGu (Profasi/Novarel/Pregnyl) and if hCGr (Ovidrel) is used, to make sure that 500mcg (rather than 250mcg) is administered. In my opinion, any lesser dosage will reduce the efficiency of meiosis, and increase the risk of the eggs being chromosomally abnormal. . I also do not use the agonist (Lupron) “trigger”. This approach which is often recommended for women at risk of overstimulation, is intended to reduce the risk of OHSS. The reason for using the Lupron trigger is that by inducing a surge in the release of LH by the pituitary gland it reduces the risk of OHSS. This is true, but this comes at the expense of egg quality because the extent of the induced LH surge varies and if too little LH is released, meiosis can be compromised, thereby increasing the percentage of chromosomally abnormal and of immature (M1) eggs. The use of “coasting” in such cases (see below) can obviate this effect.

Severe Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS): Women with certain types of absent or dysfunctional ovulation as well as those who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are highly sensitive to gonadotropins and are at risk of developing OHSS. Such women are also more likely than others to produce poor quality eggs/embryos which, they are often led to believe is attributable to an intrinsic egg defect that is characteristic of their PCOS condition. This is not necessarily so. The most likely reason as to why many women with PCOS develop an excessive number of follicles and then go on to produce poor quality eggs/embryos has to do with the fact that, in an attempt to contain reduce the risk of OHSS they are often administered hCG prematurely – prior to the attainment of optimal egg maturation.

“Prolonged Coasting”: In the early nineties, we introduced “Prolonged Coasting”, a procedure which eliminates the risk of OHSS while allowing the hCG trigger to be deferred for long enough as to allow for optimal follicle/egg maturation to take place. Coasting involves withholding gonadotropin therapy while the administration of GnRH agonist/antagonist is continued. The daily measurement of blood estradiol is continued until the concentration drops below a safe threshold level, at which time HCG is administered (regardless of the number of follicles). When appropriately implemented “coasting” results in the production of good quality eggs/embryos, in circumstances where this might otherwise not have been possible.

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
• Ovarian Stimulation for IVF using GnRH Antagonists: Comparing the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol.(A/ACP) With the “Conventional” Antagonist Approach
• 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.
• 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
• Optimizing Response to Ovarian Stimulation in Women with Compromised Ovarian Response to Ovarian Stimulation: A Personal Approach.
• 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
• Why did my IVF Fail
• IVF Should Supplant Tubal Fertility Surgery.
• IVF: How Many Attempts should be considered before Stopping?
• “Unexplained” Infertility: Often a matter of the Diagnosis Being Overlooked!
• Secondary Infertility: Addressing the Root Causes
• Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL): Why do I keep losing my Pregnancies
• Cervical Incompetence (CI): A common Cause of Late Miscarriage, Premature Birth and 2nd Trimester Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL)
• Hereditary Clotting Defects (Thrombophilia)
• Blastocyst Embryo Transfers done 5-6 Days Following Fertilization are Fast Replacing Earlier day 2-3 Transfers of Cleaved Embryos.
• 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.
• IVF: Selecting the Best Quality Embryos to Transfer

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.

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