Having Realistic Expectations Regarding IVF Outcome: When is it Time to Stop or Change Course?

It is important for patients/couples contemplating IVF with their own eggs, to be aware that usually, in more than 50% of cases a single attempt will not result in a live birth and furthermore that the chance of success declines with advancing age of the egg provider.  Thus, given the emotional, physical, and financial toll exacted by IVF, it is preferable that no one undertake a one‑shot attempt. If a couple can only afford one treatment cycle, IVF is probably not the right course of action.  It is thus unreasonable to undergo IVF with the attitude that “if it doesn’t work the first time, we’re giving up.” In vitro fertilization is somewhat a gamble even in the best of circumstances.

Statistically speaking, a woman under 40years of age who has normal ovarian reserve , a fertile male partner and a receptive uterus, is likely to have a > 75% chance of having a baby within three completed attempts (fresh and frozen transfers) where up to 2 (non PGS-tested)  blastocysts derived from her own eggs are transferred.  For women of 40-42 years of age, who meet the same criteria, the chance is about halved (i.e. 40%- 45%) and for women over 42 years the chance is probably <20%. Conversely, when the same subset of women have only the most “competent” embryos are PGS selected for transfer using a genetic process known as next generation gene sequencing (NGS), the baby rate per ET is likely to exceed 50% (regardless of the age of the egg provider) and reach close to 90% within three attempts.

Unfortunately, there will inevitably be some women/couples who, in spite of best effort at conventional IVF, are destined to remain childless. In my considered opinion, the time to stop trying is when after there is no remediable explanation for repeated failure. As a general rule it is rarely advisable to try > 3 times using the same approach. A specific case that illustrates this point comes to mind. It happened a few years back when a 42 year old Australian (Physician patient) who had undergone 23 prior failed attempts at IVF came to me for treatment here in the United States. After discovering a hitherto unrecognized immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) linked to autoimmune hypothyroidism with activation of uterine natural killer cells (Nka), I took her through an IVF attempt with her own eggs, but only this time I incorporated selective immunotherapy. She conceived and went on to have a healthy little boy. This case serves to illustrate that the time to stop doing IVF should not only be based on the number of prior failed attempts, when no definable “remediable” explanation for failure is present.

Older women and those who have diminished ovarian reserve can often benefit from stockpiling their embryos over several successive egg retrievals and then testing these collectively (once) for chromosomal integrity (i.e., “competency”) using CGH. Thereupon one or two “competent” embryos can be transferred at a time with a high expectation of success. This process is called “Embryo Banking” with Staggered IVF”. When conventional IVF with or without “Embryo Banking” with PGS embryo selection fails to yield a successful outcome, other options such as ovum donation, IVF surrogacy, or adoption should be considered.

Couples who choose to undergo IVF should be encouraged to view the entire procedure with guarded optimism but should be emotionally prepared to deal with the ever‑present possibility of failure. It is important however, for IVF patients to be made to realize from the outset that an inability to become pregnant should never be considered a reflection on them as individuals.

6 Comments

Rose

Hi, I am looking for 2nd opinion. I am 46 yrs, perfectly healthy, do not smoke or drink alcohol or caffeine. I chose a local ivf centre and out of the 4 tries, only 1 cycle reached FET, but failed. Only 3-5 follicles during each cycle. On the 5th attempt, we chose a centre in New York that specializes in older women, and though protocol was different to increase egg count and quality by taking certain vitamins. However, only 4 , was retrieved and 1 was viable for day 3 transfer. After 2 weeks of waiting, HCG <1,. Now that we are out of cash, was wondering if it is worth it to try IUI. We did 1 attempt prior to IVF and it didn't work. What are your thoughts?

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Dr. Geoffrey Sher

In my opinion, using own eggs is not worth trying at 46y with DOR. You need IVF with egg donation. However, if in spite of the chance of success being under 5% you absolutely insist on using own eggs ,you would at the very least, need IVF.

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”.
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.
. IVF with egg donation

If you are interested in seeking my advice or services, I urge you to contact my concierge, Julie Dahan ASAP to set up a Skype or an in-person consultation with me. You can also contact Julie by phone or via email at 702-533-2691/ Julied@sherivf.com You can also apply online at http://www.SherIVF.com .

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

Geoffrey Sher MD

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Ronke Agbaje

I am 40yrs old, ttc for 11 yrs now. I was diagnosed with endometriosis at 18yrs. I’ve had 4 OE IVF and moved on to Donor eggs in 2015, 2 months after myomectomy (small fibroid) – got pregnant first attempt, transferred 3 embryos which became 4 and did a fetal reduction at 14wks of the divided twin. Subsequently lost the remaining twin pregnancy at 23wks. I’ve tried another 6 attempts with donor eggs till date but all failed. I’ve had clexane with prednisolone for most of the cycles. I feel really discouraged with so much money spent. I live in Nigeria.

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Dr. Geoffrey Sher

This sounds like a possible implantation issue. Nevertheless…please read below.

• 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

If you are interested in seeking my advice or services, I urge you to contact my concierge, Julie Dahan ASAP to set up a Skype or an in-person consultation with me. You can also contact Julie by phone or via email at 702-533-2691/ Julied@sherivf.com You can also apply online at http://www.SherIVF.com .

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

Geoffrey Sher MD

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Tara

Is PGS testing the same as CGH selection? And are they both done after the embryo has transformed into a blastocyst? Day5? Thank you

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