Idiopathic Infertility Treatment: what do you need to know
Idiopathic infertility (unexplained infertility) is defined as inability to conceive after trying for 6 months in women 35y or older and one year for women younger than 35, with no tubal, ovarian or male factor infertility. This diagnosis of idiopathic infertility is established after open fallopian tubes are detected in HSG or laparoscopy, regular ovulation is detected from history, lab tests and ultrasound and sperm is near normal on sperm analysis. These fertility tests can be performed within few days. Note that good health and physical fitness..etc are not factors here. Many women with terrible general health do conceive. On the other hand, many women in excellent physical fitness and sound health have extreme difficulty conceiving even with fertility treatment. Having difficulty getting pregnant without an apparent cause applies to a large category of the sub-fertile population and is puzzling to couples trying to conceive. The consensus of opinion among reproductive endocrinologist can divide the underlying factors for unexplained infertility into
1. Chromosomal abnormalities in the egg (low egg quality)
Abnormal eggs are present in every woman, albeit to a varying degree. Older women has more abnormal eggs. In addition, the fewer eggs you have the higher the proportion of abnormal eggs. There is no non-invasive test for egg quality and history, age, blood tests for ovarian reserve and antral follicle count detected on vaginal ultrasound are the most used methods.
Factors that point to low egg quality
- Advanced maternal age,
- Diminished ovarian reserve (e.g high FSH, low AMH), also prior surgery in the ovaries, smoking, family history of early menopause and exposure to chemotherapy
- Early pregnancy loss before a fetal heart activity is detected (chemical pregnancy, blighted ovum),
- Abnormal chromosomes of the products of conception and
- Abnormal chromosome configuration of male or female partner e.g chromosome translocation. Less than 5% of couples miscarry due to a translocation in the male or female partner.
2. Other factors: may be more prevalent in younger patient and include mild endometriosis, immunological factors as anti-sperm antibodies, abnormality in cervical mucus, abnormalities in the cavity of the uterus and endometrial lining. Generally, these are not considered major factors in idiopathic infertility. Mostly oral medication produce few or only one follicles, thus they do not increase te chance that one or more eggs are healthy leading to a pregnancy.
Treatment Options for Idiopathic Infertility
Oral medication – IUI or expectant treatment (intercourse)
Oral medications are either clomid (clomiphen citrate) or an aromatase inhibitor (mostly letrozole) are used. This is followed by intercourse or intrauterine insemination (IUI). The pregnancy rate is about 5% to 7% per treatment cycle. There is no evidence that oral medications followed by IUI are superior to just intercourse in treatment of unexplained infertility. The risk for multiple pregnancy is about 8%. However, because oral medication (clomid) widespread use, mostly without ultrasound monitoring, they are probably responsible for more multiple pregnancy than any other fertility treatment.
Injection medications – IUI
This treatment should probably be avoided in the majority of couples because of a. No added benefit: Pregnancy rate is not significantly higher than Clomid-IUI cycles; 9% pregnancy rate per treatment cycle and drops to 5% in women >38y. b. Risks: notably multiple pregnancy (two or more babies; 30%) and higher order multiple pregnancy (three or more babies; 3 to 8%). Multiple pregnancy has significant risks to the mother and babies. Preterm delivery can be associated with permanent neurological and intellectual defects in the babies. This risk can be minimized with careful stimulation under supervision of a reproductive endocrinologist, but cannot be completely prevented.
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
a. The pregnancy rate per an IVF treatment cycle is approximately 30% on average, three times that of IUI. The specific pregnancy rate is dependent on female age. The time to conception is also shorter than any other fertility treatment modality. The higher success rate can be further extended through the use of frozen embryos in couples that have good quality embryos available for freezing. The cumulative pregnancies resulting from fresh transfer and subsequent frozen-thaw embryo transfer can result in a very high odds for pregnancy. Frozen embryos can be used years after their creation, when ovarian reserve has considerably diminished. The contribution of IVF to treatment success becomes more pronounced in older women >38 years as the success of ovarian stimulation – IUI drops considerably. b. The risk for twins and higher order multiple pregnancy can be greatly minimized through single embryo transfer (1% twins and no higher order multiple pregnancy). In other words if you want to get pregnant faster, with one baby and at higher chance for success per treatment cycle strongly consider IVF with single embryo transfer.
Infertility Treatment Strategy for Idiopathic Infertility
Conventional fertility treatment: “expectant management → clomid / letrozole- IUI x2 to 3 cycles → gonadotropin – IUI x3 cycles → IVF ” is the old method of treatment for unexplained infertility Modern treatment of Unexplained infertility: ” expectant management or oral medication – IUI → IVF preferably with single embryo transfer “. Women 38 years and older modern treatment strategy suggests Immediate IVF as the initial fertility treatment. The modern paradigm for fertility treatment will lead to pregnancy faster, is more successful, minimize multiple pregnancy and is more cost effective (lower dollar cost per baby). The majority of women (>70%) with unexplained infertility especially women with normal ovarian reserve will succeed in delivering a baby.Idiopathic Infertility Treatment: what do you need to know by Dr. Amr Azim