Endometriosis: Fertility Options are Clear
Endometriosis means tissue of the lining of the uterus is present outside the its normal boundaries. It can involve the pelvic lining, the ovaries (endometrioma), the fallopian tubes, the intestine and the muscle of the uterus (adenomyosis). As menstruation takes place in the uterus, these deposits menstruate into itself, become distended and causes pain (pain with menstruation, chronic pelvic pain, pain with intercourse, urination or defecation). Moreover, because of its chemical effects or associated pelvic scarring endometriosis may cause infertility.
Accurate diagnosis of endometriosis requires laparoscopy and biopsy of the areas suspicious because of its appearance. If you are suspect you have endometriosis (usually because of pelvic pain) and want to get pregnant or having difficulty becoming pregnant you face a small dilemma. You are usually given different recommendations from different headquarters, depending on their expertise and biases. Examples of such recommendations:
‘Lets do laparoscopy to diagnose endometriosis, remove any endometriosis we find as well as remove any scarring’
‘Lets give you medications for endometriosis’
The questions is which recommendation is “good for your specific case”.
Few basic principals about endometriosis treatment
These are not disputed principals, just facts related to the treatment of endometriosis in general.
1. Accurate diagnosis of endometriosis requires a laparoscopy and pathological examination of tissue biopsies obtained.
2. Medical treatment of endometriosis does not allow you to get pregnant while you are using it: oral contraceptive pills, synthetic progesteron, danazol and GnRH agonists (lupron) prevent ovulation. While you are taking these medications you will mostly not ovulate so you will not get pregnant.
3. Endometriomas (endometriotic cysts of the ovary) do not respond to medical treatment. Moreover their removal mostly require removal of a part of the ovary, because they are firmly attached. Thus their removal can lower the number of eggs remaining in the ovaries (ovarian reserve).
Treatment of infertility associated with endometriosis
Though each specific situation may require a different course of action as recommended by your physician, there are general guiding principals for treatment of infertility when endometriosis is suspected.
1. Infertility investigation: do not make any treatment decisions without a full fertility workup. Do not proceed unless you know your partner sperm analysis, obtained the results of ovarian reserve tests, tested if your fallopian tubes are open or not via an HSG as well as general preconception lab tests. Why? if you undergo surgical treatment for endometriosis and later discovered that your partner has very low sperm count requiring IVF and ICSI, then surgery had no potential to help you get pregnant.
2. What is your priority treating infertility or treating pain? This is important because medical treatment, although effective in treating pain cannot help you with infertility because it mostly prevents ovulation. Please note that the best treatment for pain associated with infertility is pregnancy. The large amounts of progesterone produced during pregnancy suppresses endometriosis, sometimes for years after delivery.
3. Resection of endometrioma; If a cyst consistent with endometriosis is seen on ultrasound be very careful with a recommendation to resect that cyst. Resection requires surgery. it reduces ovarian reserve because of removal of ovarian tissue. Unless the cyst is suspicious of malignancy or complication they are better left alone with observation while proceeding directly to fertility treatment e.g IVF. There is no evidence that removal of the cyst improves IVF success. On the contrary, removal of the cyst is associated with low response in that ovary.
4. Laparoscopis surgery for mild and minimal endometriosis: There are two studies that showed an improvement in pregnancy rate after laparoscopy for mild endometriosis. To put this in perspective, yes laparoscopy for infertility and mild endometriosis and infertility is an option but the magnitude of benefit in this case is limited at best. You first have to undergo surgery (with its possible complications). If endometriosis is found and ablated you would get a small bump in pregnancy rate in the year following surgery. The surgery may also help you with pain. On the contrary, endometriosis may not be found and you still have to try after surgery. Considering all the risks and benefits, the odds for pregnancy is not dramatically improved.
5. An alternative approach to mild and minimal endometriosis: The general thinking about infertility associated with minimal and mild endometriosis is that it is unexplained infertility. In these cases there is no mechanical distortion of pelvic organs and fallopian tubes are open. If sperm analysis is within normal enhancing fertility could be achieved through stimulation of the ovary to produce multiple eggs followed by IUI or IVF. This approach avoids surgery with its potential complication. IVF carries approximately three times the odds of pregnancy and can control the risk for multiple pregnancy, compared to IUI.
6. Moderate to severe endometriosis: These cause distortion or blocking of the fallopian tubes. Surgery is an option but its much more complicated than mild cases and has the risk of injury to the intestine, ureter, fallopian tubes, oavries..Scarring also may recur after surgery. An alternative approach is to proceed to IVF. It avoids major surgery and can address tubal, male and ovulatory factors. IVF success is not reduced in women with endometriosis.
7. Adenomysis (endometriosis of the uterus): MRI is sometimes needed for accurate diagnosis of adenomyosis. Adenomyosis is a surgical disease and its cure require removal of the whole uterus. This is because it cannot be shelled out of the uterus like a fibroid. Better ignored and proceed with fertility treatment.
Do not make any decisions related to infertility before a complete workup; sperm analysis, ovarian reserve tests and fallopian tube patency test. Avoid surgery in the ovary as it may reduce ovarian reserve. There is no established evidence that the chance for successful fertility treatment is reduced in women with endometriosis. Laparoscopic surgery is an option but is associated with surgical complications.