Monday, May 3, 2010

Ashermans syndrome in the news: The secret syndrome leaving women infertile

A recent article on Asherman’s syndrome (AS) appeared in the UK Daily mirror. It was about Sophie Blake, a TV presenter in the UK, who acquired Asherman’s syndrome as a result of two D&Cs to remove retained placenta after giving birth. It is unfortunate that her situation was not handled differently, as postpartum D&C has been reported to result in Asherman’s syndrome in 25% of cases (1). There are usually alternatives, and in some countries such as Israel, post partum D&C is no longer performed because of AS risks (2).

Toaff and Ballas, 1978
“Puerperal curettage….was discontinued in Israel after publication of Asherman’s observations*”.

Publicity about Asherman’s syndrome is important, and it always helps to have a public figure bring awareness to an overlooked condition. However, according to the article, the moral of the story is to seek early treatment when there is actually no evidence that fertility is more likely to be restored if treatment is sought early. Studies have shown that fertility outcomes are correlated with severity of adhesions (3), however there have been no studies on the effect of length of the condition on fertility. Sometimes damage is too great to be corrected and the uterus will rescar at every attempt to surgically remove adhesions and hormonally stimulate endometrial growth, even when early treatment was commenced. Other times, adhesions are not so severe and treatment after years will result in a live birth. Although treatment by an experienced AS specialist should always be sought, fertility outcome will be dependent most of all on the severity of initial injury (ie. D&C, intrauterine surgery with or without endometritis) which led to the scarring. When too many endometrial cells are removed to allow the endometrium to regenerate, this leads to recurrent adhesions and/or widespread fibrosis. In many cases even some of the underlying myometrium is removed. It is simple, without further progress in treatment strategies, there is nothing that can be done to replenish regenerative tissue that has been removed during curettage or other uterine surgery.

Early treatment does not guarantee success-just as late treatment does not guarantee failure

“Ideally corrective surgery should be performed within six months of the adhesions forming before they get too large”
This suggests that intrauterine adhesions continue to get worse over time, which is not true. Injury results in scarring anywhere in the body, and scarring is not progressive after a certain time point. Adhesions occur when scarring occurs internally and tissues are in direct contact with each other during the healing process. IUA formation is a normal physiological response to trauma-albeit trauma that is usually iatrogenic and should not have occurred in the first place. The consequences of this normal response are pathological because adhesions can lead to infertility, miscarriage and/or obstetric complications when they occur in the uterus. In actuality, IUA formation begins immediately after injury or corrective surgery and is complete by around 6-8 weeks according to Asherman’s syndrome specialists (unfortunately I am unable to find a reference for this, however studies where hysteroscopic followups are performed after D&C mention waiting 6-8 weeks at least). This is even supported in the article:

“I was devastated the scarring had come back so quickly,”

After 8 weeks, IUA do not continue to form/progress. Therefore, someone with stage I AS diagnosed 3 months after surgery will not go on to have stage IV 3 years later, because their adhesions have already fully formed by 8 weeks. There is one study which asserts that women who had early followup compared to late follow up hysteroscopy following adhesiolysis had less severe adhesions, and that early treatment would give a better outcome (4). However, early followup was 2-4 weeks after the initial surgery while late followup was 8-16 months. Thus adhesions may appear to be less ‘severe’ in the early followup group simply because they had not fully formed. The main advantage of early treatment (ie. before 6-8 weeks) is that it makes it easier for the doctor to dissect adhesions and not cause new ones inadvertently. However, in practical terms, it is highly unlikely that women will be diagnosed with AS within 6-8 weeks after a surgery (let alone treated), therefore it is usually applied as a treatment strategy after adhesiolysis instead of a uterine stent (5).

“It makes me seethe because if Asherman’s is caught early it’s totally treatable.”
“It’s treatable in the early stages, but it took two years for me to get a diagnosis.”

It is suggested that had she had surgery sooner, she would have possibly reversed the damage and regained her fertility. This is unlikely. Very severe adhesions tend to recur (3) inspite of surgery or hormone therapy. Early intervention will not make much of a difference because the extent of the initial damage is such that too many regenerative endometrial cells have been removed during the initial trauma.

It has been hypothesized (but not been proven) that the adhesive process can be progressive because adhesions limit uterine muscular activity thereby reducing perfusion of sex steroids to the endometrium which atrophy as the consequence (6). However, endometrial atrophy, which would lead to thin endometrium or fibrosis, is different to IUA. Most current classification systems only take adhesion type and extent into consideration, not fibrosis.

On the other hand, it is possible that someone with moderately severe adhesions which are treatable may develop fibrosis if treatment is not sought for years. Fibrosis would impact on fertility, not by causing IUA, but by limiting blood flow to an area of the uterus.

As one never knows whether their case is severe or not, by all means seek treatment with an AS specialist, but the best prognosis is severity.

Prevalence versus incidence“While the exact number of Asherman’s sufferers is not known, it’s estimated that 5% of D&Cs cause the condition – that’s about 3,000 new cases a year.”

The article confuses the estimated prevalence rate of Asherman’s syndrome (5%) with incidence rate after D&C. The prevalence of AS is 5%, meaning that roughly 1 in 20 women in the general population have AS. This does not however mean that the incidence rate of AS after a D&C is 5%. Incidence is the percentage of women who develop AS from a particular procedure, such as D&C. Studies have reported rates varying between 7.7 and 30% after D&C for miscarriage (7,8,9,10,11), and 25% from D&C for post partum retained placenta 2-4 weeks after delivery (2). The reason the incidence is higher than the prevalence is that not all women will have a miscarriage, and not all women who miscarry will have a missed or incomplete miscarriage or will be treated by D&C. Furthermore, there will be undiagnosed cases of AS (either because the woman does not desire more children or her infertility remains ‘unexplained’), and obviously not every woman in the population will undergo diagnosis for IUA. One should also remember that there are other causes of AS including other intrauterine surgery and genital tuberculosis (12) and these carry different incidence rates too.

It is important to report the correct incidence rate after a procedure such as D&C because this gives women a better idea of risks and helps her to make an informed decision before consenting to the procedure. There are almost always equally effective alternatives to D&C such as drugs or minimally invasive surgery like hysteroscopy which incur no or less damage.

Prevention: more information and accuracy needed

“Doctors are increasingly opting for less-invasive methods including suction or the use of tablets”

It’s unfortunate that the focus of the story was on preventing infertility through early treatment-which is misleading-rather than on promoting alternatives to D&C.
There is one sentence about prevention, and sadly it contains an inaccuracy as well as an omission. Suction D&C has never been proven to prevent AS, let alone reduce the incidence rates of AS:

Chapman and Chapman, 1990: (13)
“It is noteworthy that, of the 11 patients with isthmus stenosis, six of them were attributable to termination of pregnancy, of which all but one had been performed by suction curettage”

Dalton et al, 2006 (14)
“Intrauterine adhesions are a possible complication of office MVA (manual vacuum aspiration), even in the absence of sharp curettage, and should be considered when discussing treatment options for EPF (early pregnancy failure) with patients."

“After 262 office MVAs for first trimester pregnancy losses, we have identified 5 cases of IUAs…”

There is also no guarantee that your doctor will use only suction D&C, as many will use blunt or sharp instruments as well during the same procedure.

The mysterious ‘tablets’ mentioned allude to misoprostol, a prostaglandin E1 analogue which can evacuate the uterus after miscarriage, delivery or during termination, by causing uterine contractions. Referred to as medical management of miscarriage or retained placenta, or medical abortion depending on the situation where it is used, misoprostol is a non-invasive method which has been shown to prevent IUA compared to suction D&C in a clinical trial (7).

Here you can find out more about how misoprostol can prevent AS if you have a miscarriage. It can also prevent recurrence of AS in women who have a miscarriage after having had the condition.

1. Toaff R, Ballas S (1978). "Traumatic hypomenorrhea-amenorrhea (Asherman's syndrome)". Fertil. Steril. 30 (4): 379–87.

2. Jensen, P.A. and W.B. Stromme, Amenorrhea secondary to puerperal curettage (Asherman's syndrome). Am J Obstet Gynecol, 1972. 113(2): p. 150-7.

3. Valle RF, and Sciarra JJ (1988). "Intrauterine adhesions: Hystreoscopic diagnosis, classification, treatment and reproductive outcome". . Am J Obstet 158 (6Pt1): 1459–1470.

4. Shokeir, T.A., M. Fawzy, and M. Tatongy, The nature of intrauterine adhesions following reproductive hysteroscopic surgery as determined by early and late follow-up hysteroscopy: clinical implications. Arch Gynecol Obstet, 2008. 277(5): p. 423-7.

5. Robinson JK, Colimon LM, Isaacson KB. Postoperative adhesiolysis therapy for intrauterine adhesions (Asherman's syndrome). Fertil Steril. 2008;90(2):409-14.

6. March CM. (1995). "Intrauterine adhesions". Obstet Gynecol Clin N Am 22: 98–103.

7. Tam WH, Lau WC, Cheung LP, Yuen PM, Chung TK. (2002). "Intrauterine adhesions after conservative and surgical management of spontaneous abortion". J Am Assoc Gynecol Laparosc. 9 (2): 182–185.

8. Adoni A, Palti Z, Milwidsky A, Dolberg M. (1982). "The incidence of intrauterine adhesions following spontaneous abortion". Int J Fertil. 27 (2): 117–118.

9. Golan, A., et al., Hysteroscopic findings after missed abortion. Fertil Steril, 1992. 58(3): p. 508-10.

10. Romer, T European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology
Volume 57, Issue 3, December 1994, Pages 171-173

11. Friedler S, Margalioth EJ, Kafka I, Yaffe H. (1993). "Incidence of postabortion intra-uterine adhesions evaluated by hysteroscopy: a prospective study". Hum Reprod 8 (3): 442–444.

12. Kodaman PH, Arici AA. (2007). "Intra-uterine adhesions and fertility outcome: how to optimize success?". Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol 19 (3): 207–214.

13. K Chapman and R Chapman. Asherman's syndrome: a review of the literature, and a husband and wife's 20-year world-wide experience. J R Soc Med. 1990 September; 83(9): 576–580.

14. Dalton VK, Saunders NA, Harris LH, Williams JA, Lebovic DI (2006). "Intrauterine adhesions after manual vacuum aspiration for early pregnancy failure". Fertil. Steril. 85 (6): 1823.e1–3

No comments:

Post a Comment