Thursday, October 21, 2010

When infertility or recurrent miscarriage persist after treatment of Asherman's syndrome

For many women who have had Asherman's syndrome, the journey to having a baby is not over with the removal of adhesions. While many doctors will use this to support their theory that they had other underlying fertility problems to begin with, it is equally possible that in some cases, Asherman's syndrome has lasting effects on fertility. Sometimes these are obvious such as inaccessible ostia (adhesions are sometimes too risky to remove) or thin endometrium. Most doctors agree that a lining of at least 8 mm at the time of ovulation is ideal for implantation. There could be other defects that persist after surgical correction such as reduced blood flow to the uterus. There is some disagreement as to whether procedures which reduce blood flow to the uterus, such as uterine artery embolization (UAE) can reduce fertility by affecting ovarian reserve. There is another intriguing link between blood flow and egg quality: it is known that endometriosis reduces egg quality although the mechanism is unknown. This makes me wonder whether I have endometriosis (I've never had a laparoscopy). There is something incongruent about having so many eggs of such poor quality. Unfortunately there is little research and few artifical reproductive techniques which focus on the quality of the endometrium. These few studies will be the topic of a future blog. There is also little research on improving egg quality as most fertility specialists are skeptical that this is possible due to currently accepted dogma on egg development.

Many women with a history of AS end up undergoing fertility treatments. Personally, I experienced infertility for 1.5 years even after AS correction (surgery and estrogen therapy) when I had had no problems conceiving to begin with. Then I went from being infertile to now conceiving once every two months but miscarrying. I have had 5 miscarriages in one year. All of my pregnancies have been naturally conceived. The last 3 have been very early miscarriages. Of course my first thought was that I might have some recurrence adhesions from my last hysteroscopic removal of RPOC in March. An in-office diagnostic hysteroscopy ruled out this possibility. I had molecular karyotyping (MLPA) of my last miscarriage which revealed trisomy 9, 20 and triallelic markers on the X chromosome. This indicates problems with egg quality. The first pregnancy after AS occurred a few months after 2 cycles of unsuccessful IVF. I wonder whether the effect of IVF hormones had a beneficial effect on my endometrium and egg development. My plan is to now find a fertility specialist who is willing to work with me on a protocol that does not include egg retrieval and in vitro fertilization (since I conceive very easily without it), but rather one that concentrates on improving the uterine environment. My idea is to use low dose aspirin (to improve blood flow to the uterus) and low doses of FSH to stimulate about 2 follicles (to double my chances of a healthy embryo) , undergo 'in vivo' fertilization and start taking progesterone pessaries after ovulation (for luteal phase support). FSH stimulates follicles to grow which in turn secrete estrogen to thicken the endometrial lining. Some women with past AS find that their endometrium responds more favourably to this ovarian stimulation than to estrogen pills. I'm also considering the use of DHEA, a controversial hormone which is alleged to improve ovarian reserve and quality, resulting in fewer miscarriages (and presumably aneuploidies).

Unfortunately, a few of the fertility specialists I have seen in the past have been very unflexible and biased in their thinking. Many have their own 'pet' theories about what works and what doesn't without the backup of proper studies. While they are happy to point out that my suggestions have no rigorous evidence of efficacy, they seem oblivious to the fact that their own suggestions also lack robust data and in addition, are often expensive, time consuming, painful and with possible adverse effects on health. When I once pointed this out, a well respected specialist told me to stop thinking like a scientist! He also told me that if  I 'really' wanted a baby I would be willing to try risky treatments! There are still many unknowns in the area of infertility and fertility doctors don't know everything (even if some of them think they do!). For instance, this specialist convinced me that my inability to conceive was due to my low AMH levels (an indicator of poor ovarian reserve in my case due to being over 40) and in his words, I would never conceive without IVF, although he couldn't explain how IVF would improve ovarian reserve or egg quality. As an aside, I have very low FSH levels (3 when I was 42) which are meant to indicate excellent ovarian reserve. I didn't know it at the time he said this, but I was already pregnant. I went on to have 4 more pregnancies afterwards. Unfortunately my problem now is recurrent miscarriage, but his statement is still untrue. No one has been able to give me a reasonable explanation as to why I have gone from being unable to conceive for 1.5 years despite treatment for IUA, to conceiving every 2 months.

Below is a link to a chart detailing which tests and treatments are scientifically supported and which are not. Most have not been proven to be useful, although it is possible that in future there will be evidence to support them. It is up to the individual to decide, after considering risks and benefits, whether to proceed with them.

Infertility Tests and Therapies Questioned (Bupa)

More information on the validity of tests and therapies for infertility/recurrent miscarriage:

Cochrane Reviews: Immunotherapy for recurrent miscarriage (Full article: click here)
Note that this systematic review is comprised of studies where exclusion criteria included women with abnormal immune tests (eg. auto-antibody, cytotoxic antibodies, IgA deficiency etc.). Bascially, this review found that in women with recurrent miscarriage without any demonstrated abnormal immune function, there is no significant evidence that immunotherapy is useful (which one would expect). Still, many fertility specialists are eager to use these therapies on such patients.

RCOG: Implantation and Early Development - study group statement.

Miscarriage, Infertility, Antibodies and the Immune System Dr Licciardi's Infertility Blog