female infertility

Infertility and women in the military

Fertility issues may be common in women in the US military

A recent survey suggests that infertility may be a common problem among American servicewomen

How common are fertility issues among women in the US military?

According the Service Women’s Action Network, 37% of women from the various branches of the military (army, navy, air force, marines) surveyed experience difficulty in conceiving.

Is it easy to get infertility treatment in the military?

While treatment is available, respondents reported that treatment services were limited and difficult to access. Many basic fertility procedures such as IUI and access to a fertility specialist were unavailable on base, and for those who require advances treatments such as IVF, there are only a few military medical facilities which offer it. Frequently, those centers have long waiting lists, and require significant travel.

What about off base fertility treatment for service women?

Like other practices in different parts of the country, we are close to an active military base. Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is not far and we do participate with Tricare, so we do get to help many couples from the base seeking fertility treatment. The obstetricians and midwives in our practice also see many of the service women and family members for pregnancy care and gynecologic issues.

Does marijuana cause infertility?

Marijuana and fertility: Princeton IVF blog
Marijuana effects on fertility and pregnancy

All across the country, and likely soon in our state of New Jersey, recreational marijuana us is likely to become legal in more and more places. That means that more couples than ever who are trying to conceive will be users. If you are one of them, should you be concerned?

Here is what we know now:

Does marijuana affect a woman’s fertility?

We know that pot can affect a women’s hormones and her menstrual cycle. Ovulation problems which are related to hormone imbalances are a very common cause for female infertility.

Does marijuana affect a man’s fertility?

The main test fertility doctors use to diagnose male infertility is a semen analysis. We have known for some time that marijuana can have an adverse effect on the most important things we check for in a semen analysis, the number of sperm present (the count), how well they are swimming (motility) and the percent of the sperm that are normally shaped (morphology). We also know that exposure to active ingredient in marijuana THC can cause the breakage of chromosomes and abnormalities in a methylation, a natural chemical process which is responsible for how the genetic material is expressed in the body. Again, we do not know if this directly harmful to a man’s ability to father children or may affect the health of those children.

Is marijuana safe for my baby once I am pregnant?

If you believe the studies in animals, marijuana is not safe for pregnant moms to take. Rats whose mothers were exposed to marijuana in utero were more likely to have cognitive and memory problems in multiple studies. We do not know if this is the case in humans though. Keep in mind that a century ago, alcohol was thought to be safe in pregnancy and it was even used by doctors as a treatment for premature labor. We know now that alcohol causes very specific and severe birth defects when taken during pregnancy.

Is marijuana safe to take when I am breastfeeding?

THC can be found in the breast milk for days after use. Whether this poses any risk to a newborn is not known.

What about extracts that are sold at dispensaries?

No one knows for sure if these preparations are more safe or less safe than whole marijuana smoked or eaten.

So, do I need to be concerned?

No one can say definitively that marijuana use is dangerous during pregnancy nor can it be said to be definitively safe. There are however lots of red flags that raise concern. Most prudent doctors will advise that you and your partner consider avoiding pot if a baby is in your near future

AMH blood test- everything you wanted to know about this common blood test but were afraid to ask

AMH testing, a Q&A: Princeton IVF blog
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Common questions and answers about AMH testing

What is AMH?

Antimullerian hormone, commonly known at AMH, is hormone that is secreted by follicles in the ovary. It was initially studied for its role in reproductive development but is now widely used as a test of ovarian reserve.

What is ovarian reserve?

Ovarian reserve is a measure of the aging of the ovaries, and how many eggs the ovaries are likely to produce when given fertility medications. AMH, day 3 FSH and estradiol levels and antral follicle counts on ultrasound are commonly used measures of ovarian reserve.

What does a low AMH level mean?

A low AMH level, which most doctors consider a level of less than one, indicates that the ovary has fewer eggs available to stimulate. Women with low AMH levels, will usually make fewer eggs when given fertility drugs for IVF or insemination cycles.

Does a low AMH level mean that I am less likely to get pregnant?

AMH is a great test to determine how a woman will respond to medications, but it not as good at predicting pregnancy rates. It is true that women who produce more eggs are more likely to get pregnant, but particularly in young women, who do not need a large number of eggs, there does not seem to be reason to be concerned.

What does a high AMH level mean?

A high AMH level suggests that you are likely to respond very well to fertility injections and may be more likely to become hyperstimulated when taking them. It is also is considered a sign of polycystic ovaries (PCO) although AMH levels are not currently used to make the diagnosis.

Can the AMH level be used to predict if I will have trouble getting pregnant in the future?

Not really. Despite the early hope that AMH could help women know in advance if they might have infertility in the future, it turns out there is no evidence that AMH can predict future fertility.

Adenomyosis and your fertility

Adenomyosis and fertility: Princeton IVF blog

Adeno what?

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Most women have never heard of adenomyosis, but most gynecologists have, and it is a condition that may affect your chances of having a baby.


What is adenomyosis?

Adenomyosis is a disease where the glands that line the uterine cavity (the endometrium) are growing into the muscle of the uterus (the myometrium). In the past adenomyosis was considered a form of endometriosis, a disease in which the glands that normal grow in the endometrium grow outside of the uterus.

What are the symptoms of adenomyosis?

The symptoms of adenomyosis are similar to those of fibroids, painful and heavy periods. Not everyone with adenomyosis had symptoms though.

How is adenomyosis diagnosed?

In the past and sometimes still, adenomyosis was diagnosed when the tissue from a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), usually done on someone who is thought to have fibroids, is examined in the laboratory. Sometimes, adenomyosis can be seen on ultrasound and can be seen even better on MRI.

Does adenomyosis affect fertility?

In the past, the answer was unclear. Recent research suggests that it may harmful to your fertility. Women undergoing with adenomyosis undergoing IVF had lower implantation rates, lower pregnancy rates, lower live birth rates and higher miscarriage rates.

How is adenomyosis treated?

Most adenomyosis is treated by hysterectomy, but this is not an option for fertility patients. There are newer experimental procedures such as ultrasound ablation, but it is not clear how safe and effective they are.

Should we try Femara first?

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For years clomiphene has been the main medication that fertility doctors and obgyns use to help women with polycystic ovarian syndrome and irregular cycles to get pregnant

That may be starting to change. In fertility practices such as ours, we have switched to a different drug, letrozole, also known by the brand name, Femara.

What is Letrozole?

Letrozole is a medication that blocks an enzyme in the body that converts testosterone into estrogen. It causes the estrogen levels to drop which lead to the pituitary gland to produce more of a hormone called FSH. FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) is the hormone the causes the eggs to start growing. By doing this, letrozole stimulates ovulation The most common use for letrozole is to help women with breast cancer reduce their risk of recurrence.

Why would you want to use letrozole instead of clomid?

Stimulation with letrozole results in fewer eggs than clomiphene, resulting in fewer multiple births. It is also less likely to cause the side effects of hot flashes and mood swings that are common with clomid.

So, what do the experts say about Femara?

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists has endorsed letrozole as first line treatment for women with PCOS and infertility.

 

Celebrities having babies over 40

Pregnancy in your 40s- how realistic is it?: Princeton IVF blog
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The media shows plenty of Hollywood stars having babies in their 40s, but are they telling the whole story?

For many it is exciting to hear about the celebrities they adore having babies. Like many women in the society at large, many celebrities have chosen to delay having children for a variety of reasons. It should come at surprise, then, that many of the celebrity moms depicted in the magazines are in their 40s.

Knowing how women trying to start a family (or growing her current family) as they get older face an uphill battle,  are the media who cover these stories doing a disservice to women's reproductive health?

To answer this question, researchers at New York University looked at all the issues of 3 popular magazines widely read by women of reproductive age over a 4 year period.

This is what they found:

  • There were 1,894 references to pregnancy or fertility
  • 1/3 of the issues had cover stories related to fertility
  • There 240 celebrities, who averaged age 35
  • Only 2 articles on 40+ year olds using donor eggs
  • There were 10 stories about adoption and 5 about using a gestational carrier. Not one of these mentioned that they had previously suffered from infertility

It is understandable that a celebrity (or anyone else for that matter) would not want to share the very personal details of what it is like to go through fertility testing and treatment.  Still, the stories presented to the public are far from complete. While there is nothing that appears to be inaccurate in the articles, they present an unrealistic view of normal fertility after 35.

Modern fertility treatments have revolutionized the ability of couples suffering from infertility to get pregnant, but it has not been able to eliminate reproductive aging. Implying that waiting to have children is not harmful to your fertility through human interest stories is doing a disservice to women. 

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.

Trying IUI before IVF

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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.

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.

Delaying the diagnosis of PCOS

PCOS may take years to diagnose: Princeton IVF blog
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How long to does it take to be diagnosed polycystic ovarian syndrome?

Apparently a lot longer than you might expect...

A recent study from University of Pennsylvania suggests that women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome may not receive the proper diagnosis for years.

Women across the US and Europe were surveyed and this is what the researchers found:

  • in 1/3 of women, it took at least 2 years to make the diagnosis
  • almost of half of women had visited at least 3 health care providers before the diagnosis was made
  • 84 % of women did not believe they received enough information about PCOS at the time of their diagnosis

As a Reproductive Endocrinologist, this is both surprising and not expected.

In our practice, as in most fertility and gynecology practices, PCOS is one of the most common disorders that we see. It is the most common hormonal disorder in women of reproductive age and the ovulation problems associated with PCOS are the most common cause for infertility in women. So, as specialists, we are attuned to look for polycystic ovary, and are more likely to find it in its more subtle forms. We are also committed to educate our patients about their condition, what causes it, how it is treated and what other health implications it might have.

It is also very common for us to see women who were never told by their doctor that they might have PCOS, and only came to see us because they cannot conceive. Still others, looked up their symptoms online, realized they had PCOS and referred themselves.

Sometimes seeing a specialist can help.

Most of the time your OBGYN, midwife or even primary care physician can manage the symptoms of PCOS. If your symptoms are under control and have a good understanding of your condition, there is no reason to seek out help. If your symptoms not controlled, you are having trouble getting pregnant or you don't feel you have an adequate understanding of PCOS, seeing a sub specialist in Reproductive Medicine may be a good idea. 

 

 

So how accurate is my fertility app?

Fertility apps for the iphone and android: Princeton IVF blog
Do fertility apps work?

Many couples trying to get pregnant use them, but do fertility apps for the iphone and android devices really give you valuable information?

As a fertility specialist, my patients are always sharing with me information they learn about their menstrual cycles and their fertile windows from apps on their cell phones. Knowledge about one's body is always a good thing to have, but are these apps really helping couples get accurate information?

To answer this questions, doctors at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York looked at whether these apps (and websites which give out similar information) actually properly inform normal fertile women with regular cycles on the correct days to try for a baby. What they found was a bit disappointing.

While fertility apps were able to select the most fertile day of the cycle, they were quite frequently inaccurate on advising women about their "fertile window."

The apps were not a total bust. Couples who followed the apps advice were not putting their chances of having a baby in peril, even if the app's advice was less than optimal. The iphone has still not replaced the advice of your fertility doctor or gynecologist, at least not yet.

Soy and fertility

Are soy products good or bad for your fertility?

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Soy products such as soy milk and tofu are high in protein and have become popular for their reported health benefits. So, why the concern?It turns out that soy products also contain chemicals called phytoestrogens. These phytoestrogens are chemicals found in plants that look and act like estrogens, the "female" sex hormones that both women and men produce naturally.  It is commonly believed (but not universally accepted) that these phytoestrogens may have health benefits such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and taming the symptoms of menopause. One of the main concerns over the use of these "dietary supplements" is that if they act like estrogens, they may very well carry the the same risks as taking estrogen pills like Premarin and Estrace.

 So, how does this tie in with fertility issues? One of the key ingredients in birth control pills is a type of estrogen (commonly ethinyl estradiol) so it should come as no surprise there may that taking soy products could potentially be a problem for women attempting pregnancy.

With that in mind, researchers at Harvard's School of Public Health, looked at women undergoing IVF treatment to see if the use of soy products had any effect on the pregnancy rates. The results were somewhat surprising. IVF patients taking soy supplements were actually more likely to get pregnant. While the study was small and limited, and it is certainly to early to encourage women doing IVF to take in more soy products, it does appear to be reassuring for those trying to get pregnant and don't want to stop the soy milk and tofu.

Veterans and Fertility Care

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US Congress considers improving veterans access to reproductive health care

After faithfully serving our country in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of the brave men and women of our armed forces return home with injuries. While the more devastating injuries such as head injuries, missing limbs and PTSD, make all the headlines, there are other battle scars that remain unspoken. One of those is infertility.

Serving our nation can have an adverse effect on couple's ability to start or grow a family, whether it be from the direct trauma of battle or the inevitable delays that come from prolonged deployments. Appropriately, the Defense Department recognizes the importance of this for our fighting men and women and provides at least some fertility coverage for active service personnel.

The same is not true for our veterans. In fact, federal law prohibits covering these treatments through the VA system. On several occasions, Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) has introduced bills to address this issue without success. Now, there is also movement on the other side of the aisle. Just this past week, Representative Jeff Miller (R-Florida), Chairman of the House Committe on Veterans Affairs has introduced a bill to correct this inequity. His bill HR 2257, if passed and signed into law, will allow veterans to treat fertility issues that arose during their service even after they leave the armed forces. Hopefully, this legislation will make it through the congress and on to the President's desk.

 

Basic facts about fertility and infertility for NIAW

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This week April 19-April 25, is National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW).  In recognition of NIAW, we would like to share some of the basic facts about fertility and infertility

How old is too old to try IVF ?

With stories of 45 year celebrities having babies (and sometimes even twins and triplets) with high tech treatments, most people think that age is not a barrier to successful treatment.  When using donor eggs from a young egg donor, that is definitely true. The chances for success with donor egg ivf is excellent, even for women in their late 40's. However that is not the case in women using their own eggs. Pregnancies in women undergoing fertility treatment without the use of a donor over 45 are very unusual.  A recent report from Florida describes a 46 year old woman who is reported to be oldest woman to conceive from IVF with her own eggs. Is this a major breakthrough? Not really. The main determinant over whether a fertilized egg will develop into a healthy baby is whether the embryo is genetically abnormal. Genetically normal embryos are common in 25 year olds but pregnancy rates are never 100%. Likewise, the vast majority of  45 year olds' embryos are abnormal, and so the pregnancy rates would be expected to be quite low but not exactly 0%. When confronted with these odds, most couples would chose not to try.

Common preception is often incorrect: Infertility rates are not rising.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control suggests that infertility is actually becoming less common despite the popular wisdom that it more common than ever. The why is unknown. It could be due to couples seeking treatment sooner, economic concerns in this uncertain age or reductions in sexually transmitted diseases.  For more on this story, click here.