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Could your fertility be a gauge of your health?

Infertility may mean health risks in the future

Research suggests that women with infertility may be at higher risk for health problems in the future

As a fertility specialist, I hear this all the time. I am healthy and take good care of myself, so there should be no reason I am not be getting pregnant. Naturally, we go on to discuss how one's fertility can be quite separate from your general health, as is quite often the case. Perhaps, though, that is not completely true.

A study out of the University of Pennsylvania and the National Cancer Institute followed women long term for health issues. 

They were mostly followed for cancer related issues, but were also asked about a history of infertility as a part of the study.

What they found though was interesting, including:

  • overall, women with a history of infertility had a 10% risk of dying over the 13 year study time
  • women with a history of infertility had a 20% increased risk of dying from cancer
  • women with a history of infertility had a 44% increased risk of dying from breast cancer
  • women with a history of infertility had a 70% increased risk of dying from diabetes, even though they were no more likely to have diabetes
  • uterine and ovarian cancer were no more common in women with a history of infertility

Does these mean the infertility causes poor health? Probably not, but it does mean that infertility could be sign of underlying health issues.

It means that women with a history of infertility, whether they were treated or not, whether they were successful or not, need to pay attention to their general health. 

 

 

Should I stop alcohol before pregnancy?

Moderate alcohol does not harm fertility but not safe during pregnancy.

Many women stop all alcohol when starting to attempt pregnancy, but does it really help?

Probably not. Research suggests that moderate alcohol intake will likely not harm your fertility.

Before we go any further, this means prior to pregnancy. No one including your doctor or midwife can reassure you that alcohol is safe to take in any amount during pregnancy, and that includes the week that you are pregnant before the pregnancy test comes out positive.

Anyhow, getting back to the story, researchers in Denmark compared a group of women who more moderate drinkers (between 1 and 14 glasses of wine per week) to another group of women who did not drink at all while attempting pregnancy. The researchers did not find any difference in the chances for pregnancy between the 2 groups. The same was not true for heavier drinkers. Those who drank the equivalent of 2 bottles of wine per week or more were actually less likely to conceive.

So what this mean for drinking alcohol when trying to conceive?

According this study, light to moderate alcohol likely does not affect your chances of having a baby, but heavy alcohol consumption likely does.

Can I drink when I'm trying to get pregnant?

In moderation, alcohol consumption before a pregnancy implants in the uterus is fine.  A pregnancy implants about a week before you expect your period, and it is impossible to say if it is safe to drink from that time on.

What about alcohol during the rest of pregnancy?

Heavy and moderate alcohol are well known to cause serious birth defects. Ask your doctor or midwife. They will almost certainly agree.It is not clear whether have an occasional glass of wine will increase your risk of birth defects or not. In the absence of information to reassure our patients, most of obstetricians and midwives will advise against it.

Live birth after uterine transplant

Live birth after uterine transplant: Princeton IVF blog

Doctors at Baylor University deliver the first US baby born following uterine transplantation

A few years back, doctors in Sweden performed the first successful uterine transplant. Several academic fertility centers in the US have tried to replicate this here, and doctors at Baylor announced they were the first to do so.

Why would one want to transplant a uterus?

It is impossible to carry a baby without a uterus, also known as the womb. The early embryo implants itself into the wall the uterus about a week after conception and through the placenta and umbilical cord, its interface to the uterus, the fetus gets all of the nutrients and oxygen it needs to grow and even to survive.

Some women are born without a uterus (such as in the Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome), some have scar tissue in the uterus and others have had their uterus removed (a hysterectomy) for fibroids, cancer or some other reason. While there have been many many cases of ectopic pregnancies, where a pregnancy implants outside the uterus, these pregnancies nearly always need to be terminated early on since they can result on the death of the mother, and almost never results in a live birth of a baby. There is also interest in using a transplanted uterus in transgender women.

Are there alternatives ways to have baby without a uterus?

Currently, there is a very effective way of having a baby without a womb, and it is called Gestational Carrier IVF.  The eggs are harvested from the intended mother, sperm is collected from the intended father, and fertilization is performed in the IVF laboratory. The embryos are grown and transfered into the uterus another woman, referred to as a gestational carrier after her uterus is prepared for pregnancy using hormonal treatments. This can be costly (but much less so than a uterine transplatation), is illegal in some states and most importantly, the pregnancy is carried and delivered by someone else other than the intended mother.

How is a uterine transplant performed?

The uteri used for transplantation can be obtained from living donors or women who have recently passed away and offered their organs up for donation. Using an open incision (laparotomy in medical jingo), the donor uterus is attached the various blood vessels to ensure it has good supply and to attached to nearby structures to hold it in place. It is not attached to the fallopian tube.

How does a woman get pregnant after uterine transplantation?

IVF (in vitro fertilization) is required to achieve pregnancy since without a connection between the tube and uterus, pregnancy would otherwise be impossible. In years past, fertility surgeons, connected fallopian tubes to the uterus, but that operation has been abandoned since it rarely worked. IVF bypasses that problem and offers the best chance for pregnancy.

Are more uterine transplant babies coming?

The doctors at Baylor have another woman pregnant after uterine transplantation and IVF, a few more attempts planned. A number of women undergoing the procedure have not been successful. Other centers are trying this as well, but the costs are so high and it is not covered by insurance, so it not clear how widespread this will become.

Twin sons from another mother: a true story

A gestational carrier with twins finds out one of the twins she was carrying was her own

Surrogate mom gives birth  to twins boys, but one only was from her IVF cycle, the others was her own.

How is that possible?

When a couple uses a gestational carrier (what most people think of a surrogacy), embryos are produced from the eggs from the intended mother and sperm from the intended father. Sometimes the eggs or sperm are from a donor instead. Regardless, the embryos are placed in the womb of the gestational carrier, the woman who will carry the pregnancy and give birth for the intended parents. The carrier will take hormones to help prepare her uterus for pregnancy. This process has been done for years by fertility specialists, is highly successful and despite its complexity usually goes off without a hitch.

Not this time though...

A California woman agreed to be a gestational carrier for another couple. They did a form of IVF and the procedure seemingly went well. The carrier became pregnant and on ultrasound they saw twins.  Since one embryo was transfered, the doctors naturally assumed the twins were identical. The pregnancy went well, the twins were delivered by cesarian section and went to live with the intended parents.

A month later, genetic testing revealed that the twins were not identical, and that the child's genetic parents were actually the gestational carrier and her husband.

How could this happen...

In a process called suprafecundation, a women who is already pregnant, or this case, in the process of becoming pregnant, can ovulate again.

When this happens, a woman who is pregnant would conceive a second pregnancy when she ovulates a month later. So, the second baby would be due a month later than the first. This type of event is exceedingly rare, but it looks like this is happened here, but on a shorter time frame.

 

Is treating infertility a crime?

Is treating infertility a crime?: Princeton IVF blog

Irish government proposes draconian new regulations of IVF treatments

Ireland-strict-ivf-regulations.jpg

Fertility treatments, particularly IVF have been subject to strict government regulations around the world, but has the Irish government's proposals gone too far this time?

Recently, the Irish government Department of Health has decided to develop a plan to provide IVF treatment for its citizens who suffer from infertility. While this is excellent news, they are also proposing some regulations, that are a bit over the top including...

One can understand their desire to refuse to cover treatments that would be less likely to result in a healthy live birth, but to threaten jail time for doctors and staff for performing IVF. That makes no sense. Hopefully, these absurd regulations are never enacted.

 

IVF no longer covered where it all started

IVF-insurance-coverage-in-UK.jpg

The first IVF baby Louise Brown was conceived near Cambridge, England over 3 decades ago...

Now it turns out that National Health Service in Cambridgeshire will no longer cover IVF treatment in the place where it all began.

It is sad but true according the BBC...

The UK with its single payer government health system, like all other health systems, has limited funds and been forced to make a decision on where to cut. In Cambridgeshire, coverage for IVF was one of those cuts even though ivf treatment is recommended by the nhs' own guidelines.

In the United States, where we have a more fragmented system, some states such as New Jersey where we are located, mandate coverage. While the law remains intact and recently was amended to expand the definition of infertility, health care reform laws such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare) has actually reduced the number of women in our state who are covered for fertility treatment. When faced with multiple mandates, employers and insurers are forced to make decisions where to cut to control their premiums.

While there is plenty of talk these days about advocating a single payer government controlled system, it is not clear that such a change will benefit couples with infertility. While some countries with national health care systems do cover IVF and other treatments, it is often the first item on the chopping block when costs are getting out of control. It is certainly the case in Britain.

For those who advocate for the availability of treatment of infertile couples, be careful what you wish for. Increased access to medical care does not necessarily mean increaseD access to fertility care.

A spoonful of sugar may may the medicine go down, but will it harm your chances for pregnancy?

Sugary drinks, articifical sweeteners and fertility: Princeton IVF blog
sugar-drinks-ivf-pregnancy.jpg

Recent studies suggests that sugary drinks, even those with artificial sweeteners may harm the chances for pregnancy.

Although it is far from conclusive, several recent studies suggest that sweet drinks may have an adverse effect of a woman's chance for pregnancy, including...

  • Harvard doctors found that drinking one sugary drink a day can lower the success rate of IVF by 12% and more than one sweet drink a day by 16%

  • Brazilian researchers found that consuming sugary or artificially sweetened drinks reduced embryo quality and the chances for an embryo to implant. interestingly

Interestingly this effect did not occur with unsweetened coffee.

The reason for this is not totally clear, though we know both obesity and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which are both associated with infertility and miscarriage, and associated with changes in how the body handles sugar, can lower the chances for pregnancy.

So, what should I do?

It is a good idea to keep sugary products to a minimum when you are trying to get pregnant, and to minimize artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, Equal or Sweet-and-Low. These sugar substitutes may be just as harmful as sugar itself.

Don't panic. Women who use artificial sweeteners and drink sweet drinks still get pregnant all the time, even if the chances are a little lower. There are many factors that go into your fertility, so it is far from clear that consuming these drinks is actually harms your chances for pregnancy.

IVF for Coral

Saving coral reefs with IVF: Princeton IVF blog

Saving the coral reefs with assisted reproduction

In vitro fertilization to save Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs

 

IVF has been used to help couples with infertility for decades but could it now be used help save world's coral reefs too?

Researchers think so. Scientists in the UK, Australia and the US are experimenting with using a technique very similar to in vitro fertilization to help restore the coral reefs of  the world. In turns out that coral are very poor at reproducing  and restoring their populations following environmental insults such as climate change or storms. They are hoping to use techniques similar to those used in helping infertile couples conceive to reseed bleached areas in the reefs.

Only time will tell if this will work.

Will I still be fertile when I am ready to have kids?

Blood test may not predict future fertility: Princeton IVF blog
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Fertility specialists (and obgyns) get this question all the time.

How can I know when my fertility will run out?

Many fertility doctors have recommended checking a test called AMH to see whether a women is approaching the end of her fertility. This is a blood test that we commonly use to determine ovarian reserve, which is a measure of how many eggs are left and how many eggs a woman might expect to be able to make when on fertility drugs, like those drugs taken for an IVF cycle. We know that AMH is fairly good predictor of how a woman will respond to drugs, and to a lesser extent how likely she is to conceive on treatments. This test is now easy to obtain, helpful for counseling and it use has become fairly routine among fertility specialists.

So, if it is good to determine the chances for success in women seeking fertility treatment, shouldn't it be useful in determining which women might have trouble getting pregnant down the line?

It certainly makes sense. Use the AMH to determine which women are starting to run out of eggs, and encourage them to start trying to get pregnant sooner, not delay seeking help with a specialist or even freeze her eggs for the future.

To test this idea, researchers in North Carolina looked at AMH as well as several other markers of aging ovaries to see if they might predict whether a women would have trouble getting pregnant going forward.

It turned out that AMH and the other tests could not predict infertility in the near future, and that the only thing that could predict the chances for pregnancy was age.

The take home message: there is no magic test at this time that can predict your future fertility. The best recommendation is the old recommendation. Don't wait.

Ready to give up after IVF? It's not time to give up.

Many couples with unsuccessful IVFs get pregnant on their own
Upto a third of couples who failed to get pregnant with IVF may get pregnant on their own.

IVF treatment can be incredibly stressful, even when it is successful. Imagine how difficult IVF can be when it is not? That is likely why so many couples give up after an unsuccessful IVF cycle.

According to reasearchers in the UK, almost a third of couples who are not successful at IVF and stop treatment will conceive on their own, although that might take up to 2 years.

Surprisingly, many of the couples who did conceive this way were not as thrilled as one might expect. Some couples have moved on in their life situations, and others were felt that maybe they never needed IVF in the first place.

Dr. Seth Derman, Inside Jersey Top Doctor

Dr. Seth Derman- a top fertility doctor in NJ
Seth G Derman, MD, Reproductive Medicine Specialist and Inside Jersey top doctor

Dr Derman named to the top doctor list once again for 2017

The medical director at Princeton IVF and a Reproductive Endocrinologist at Delaware Valley OBGYN and Infertility, Dr. Seth Derman has been named one of Inside Jersey Magazine's Top 2128 Doctors for 2017.

Candidates for the top doctor list are vetted  by Castle Connolly, and nominated and selected by their peers for inclusion in this list.

Can having a miscarriage increase your chances of having a baby?

Miscarriage after IVF may mean a better chance for future baby

An unsuccessful IVF cycle can be downright devastating to couples going through fertility treatments, particularly when the cycle results in a miscarriage. Between the guilt, the disappointment and the "if I only had's," many couples leave the experience totally devastated.  But are those concerns really warranted?

Probably not.

Fertility specialists have known for years that women who miscarry, are actually more likely to have a baby, even though most patients are a understandably somewhat skeptical about this.

To look further into this fertility specialists at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland looked at well over 100,000 IVF treatment cycles performed between 1999 and 2008. They were particularly interested in women who had a first cycle at that was unsuccessful, whether that was there was a miscarriage or no pregnancy at all. What they found was not surprising considering what we already know.

Women who had miscarried had a higher 49% chance of livebirth in the subsequent IVF cycle as compared to only a 30.1% chance had the first cycle not resulted in a pregnancy.

So, what does this all mean? 

  • Don't be in a rush to give up. Lots of women conceive on subsequent cycles.
  • Having a miscarriage from IVF, and likely from other treatments, means you are more likely to have a baby, not less likely.

Trying IUI before IVF

IUI-vs-IVF-treatment.jpg

A new study suggests a few months of IUI might work just as well.

No surprises here. We have been advising our patients to consider intrauterine insemination (IUI) as an alternative to IVF for years.

A recent study again confirms the that IUI is a reasonable approach to treating infertility. Researchers in New Zealand found that women who did IUI along with oral medications (clomiphene was used in this study) for 3 months has similar pregnancy rates to those who went straight to IVF on their first treatment cycle.

So, why would one to go straight to IVF? IVF offers several advantages over inseminations:

  • higher pregnancy rates
  • shorter time to conception
  • ability to genetically test the embryos before putting them back
  • elimination of most multiple births when only one embryo transferred
  • the ability to freeze left over embryos for future use 

IUI also has some significant  advantages:

  • much less expensive (about 1/5 of the cost)
  • much less invasive
  • fewer drugs, fewer injections
  • no need for anesthesia
  • less stressful
  • lower multiple birth rates when oral fertility drugs are used and multiple embryos are transferred with IVF

All couples have a different comfort level when it comes to fertility treatment. Like most medical treatments, fertility treatments involve balancing the effectiveness and risks of the various options. This is an important discussion to have with your doctor.

Noise and fertility

Traffic noise may increase time to conceive: Princeton IVF blog

Could a noisy neighborhood be making it harder to get pregnant?

Danish study suggests couple who live in neighborhoods with lots of traffic noise may take longer to get pregnant.

A study from Denmark suggests that it may have some impact.

The researcher looked at 65,000 Danish women who delivered between 1996 and 2002, and interviewed them to determine, among other things, how long it took them to conceive. They also looked at the traffic volumes for their neighborhood to see if they could compare the two.

They found that for every 10 decibels of additional traffic noise, there was a 5-8% increase in the chance it would take more than six months to conceive. 

Fortunately, increased traffic noise did not affect a couples chances to take longer than a year to get pregnant. Infertility is defined as a disease in which a couple is unable to conceive after one year's time, so the traffic noise itself did not cause infertility.

They could not determine whether the delayed time-to-conception (TTC) was due to the male or female partner, and the this delayed TTC was not affected by other factors such as poverty or levels air pollution that could delay conception.

Editing embryos- fiction, science fiction or both?

Designer babies and gene editing: fiction, science fiction or both: Princeton IVF blog
Researchers in Oregon 

A recent report from Oregon describes how researchers edited the genes in a human embryo.

To many of us, myself included, it sounds a bit scary.

An article in the NY times argues that it is huge leap from gene editing to designer babies, since most human traits require the interaction between a number of genes and the environment

There are thousands of what are called single gene mutation disorders that this gene editing technology may be able fix. Examples of this include Cystic Fibrosis, Tay Sachs disease and Sickle Cell Anemia. These types of diseases are due to a single gene mutation which could potentially be repaired using this technology. Many of these disorders can currently be screened for and diagnosed (if anticipated) during the IVF process using Preimplantion Genetic  Diagnosis (PGD)

Picking out your child's height, or athletic or intellectual abilities are another story. Height alone is likely to controlled by tens of thousands of genes, of which less than a thousand have been identified. Even if all of the genetics could be worked out, the task of editing those genes would be enormous.

So, for now at least, designer babies are the stuff of science fiction.

Rhode Island mandates fertility preservation

First state mandates egg freezing insurance coverage: Princeton IVF blog

First state requires fertility preservation coverage from insurers

Egg freezing insurance coverage

What is fertility preservation?

It refers to obtaining, freezing and storing eggs, sperm or embryos for future use. 

Why would one want to preserve fertility?

There are several reasons:

  • If you are undergoing treatment for cancer or other diseases that require treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery which are likely to cause infertility.
  • If you need to defer having a baby but are concerned you may be too old when you are ready
  • If you do not have a partner, are concerned about waiting but not ready to use a sperm donor.

What is the signIficance of the Rhode Island law?

This is the first time in the US that fertility preservation insurance coverage has been mandated by law. A number of states do require treatment for infertility but not necessarily fertility preservation. That could change in the future.

Where can I learn more about the mandate?

Here is a link to the Rhode Island law.

What do I do if I am about to get chemotherapy and want to learn more?

This is a discussion you need to have ASAP with your oncologist and a reproductive medicine specialist. Ideally the process should happen before cancer treatment starts, and your oncologist will want to delay treatment as little as possible. If you are in our area and would like to see us at Princeton IVF, please call at 609-896-4984 or 609-896-0777 to set up an appointment.

 

Sperm selfies?

Testing for male fertility on your smartphone: Princeton IVF blog

Could your smartphone replace a semen analysis?

At home, iphone and android based sperm test kit

 

Can this device replace a semen analysis with your doctor? Maybe in the future.

Based on research from Harvard University, engineers have developed a new device for an at home "semen analysis." There are already at home sperm test kits available in stores, what is so unique about this one? Simply put, it is the smart phone. This device attaches to and taps the power of your iphone or android device through it's app, to analyze the data and give you a visual display of what the laboratory folks would see under the microscope.

The pros:

  • low cost
  • quick results
  • can be done at home without the awkwardness
  • you get to see what the actual sperm look like

The cons:

  • lacks the details your doctor may need (actual sperm concentration and motility)
  • unable to accurately determine morphology (another important part of the semen analysis)

The idea is a good one.

Reliable, inexpensive testing in a comfortable setting, and a way to determine when it's time to visit the fertility doctor or urologist. The reality is not quite there yet. The information is not quite enough to replace the formal semen analysis at a clinic, but with improvements in the software, it may well be in the future.

AMA calls Infertility a disease

AMA agrees Infertility is a diesase: Princeton IVF blog

It's official now. Infertility is now what we know it has been for years, a disease, not a problem or an inconvenience.

At the encouragement of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the American Medical Association has voted to call infertility a disease.

According to the ASRM, 

Infertility is NOT an inconvenience; it is a disease of the reproductive system that impairs the body's ability to perform the basic function of reproduction.

Now the AMA has accepted this fact.

Sperm counts are dropping

Sperm counts are declining across the west: Princeton IVF blog

A recent publication suggests that sperm counts may be declining all across the western world

Research suggest sperm quality is going down across the western world.

It is been all over the news lately.  Some in the media have even suggested this may bring our doom as a species. So, what's the real story behind this...


A recent paper published suggests that sperm counts may be declining in Western countries.  


While this is not entirely new, it is a continuation of a trend that has been noted for years.  This there has been a decline in sperm quality noted in the United States and other western nations. The authors compiled studies done over a number of years including:

  • 185 studies
  • over 42,000 men
  • between 1973 and 2011
  • from US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand

Over the 39 years, the sperm concentration dropped 52.4% and the total sperm count went down 59.3%, a hugh decline.

While this is concerning, it raises even more questions:

  • Have the counts really declined or is it just the techniques used to count the sperm?
  • If the counts are going down, is it actually affecting male fertility?
  • Is this a problem in the developing world or just in the west?
  • If this being caused by increasing obesity?
  • Is this being caused by something in the environment?

 

Only time and further research will answer these questions.

Your weight and your fertility

Your weight can affect your fertility: Princeton IVF blog
Being overweight can make it take longer to get pregnant in both men and women.

If either partner is overweight, it can harm your fertility

It has been know for for years that women who are overweight have a lower chance for success for IVF, and most fertility specialists encourage their patients who are overweight, to lose weight if possible, before treatment. So, the next logical questions is this: Does being overweight affect your chances of getting pregnant on your own even if you do not have infertility?

A study by National Institutes of Health (NIH) addressed that particular issue. The study was called the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study and they looked at couples who were both normal and with various degrees of being overweight to see how long it took them to conceive, commonly referred to as TTC. They looked about 500 couples from Texas and Michigan  and broke them down into 4 groups, normal weight (BMI 18-25), overweight (BMI 25-25), class I (BMI 30-34.9) and class II (BMI 35 and higher).  

The researchers found that in couples with class II obesity ( BMI > 35), it took 55% more time to conceive, than in normal weight couples.

It means that being significantly overweight not only affects your chances for pregnancy with fertility treatments such as IVF, it also makes it more difficult to conceive on your own.