Endometrial scratching to improve IVF success rates

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Endometrial scratching to improve IVF success rates

Couples who are struggling with infertility often seek In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatment in order to improve their chances of starting a family. But what happens when you have gone through multiple unsuccessful IVF cycles? Is there something else you can try?

Many patients who’ve experienced this first hand, have asked me this question, eager to try out something new to enhance their chances in the next IVF cycle. Therefore, today, I’d like to tell you more about a procedure called endometrial scratching, which has become increasingly popular in recent years.

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What is it?

Endometrial scratching is a procedure that involves agitation of the endometrium, which is the mucus membrane that lines the uterus. For conception to occur, a fertilised egg has to successfully implant itself into the wall of the uterus. Sometimes, implantation fails, usually due to the quality of the embryo or the receptivity of the endometrium. In endometrial scratching, a fertility specialist passes a special thin catheter or pipille through a woman’s cervix. The pipille is then moved up and down to gently make tiny scratches or scrapes in the uterine lining.  The similar effect can also be achieved by introducing a hysteroscope through the cervix to visualised the lining of the uterus during polyps removal.

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Why is it done?

In theory, endometrial scratching is believed to trigger the uterus to repair itself and develop a new lining, which will be more receptive to an embryo implanting. While the effectiveness of the procedure needs further investigation, studies that have been done on endometrial scratching in recent years have shown encouraging results.

One such study was conducted by the University of Nottingham, UK, which involved 158 women who had undergone unsuccessful IVF procedures. The women were divided into two groups, with one group given the endometrial scratching procedure. As a result, they found the women who had undergone the scratching procedure achieved a 49% pregnancy rate, compared to 29% in the other group.

In another study involving 1000 women, presented at the annual meeting of European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), endometrial scratching is said to increase pregnancy success rates for couples trying to conceive naturally or with Intrauterine Insemination (IUI).

When is it done?

The endometrial scratching procedure is usually recommended for patients who’ve experienced multiple unsuccessful IVF cycles or Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) treatment. The procedure is best performed prior to a woman’s period or right after the period. It is done before an IVF or frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycle begins.

Does it hurt?

While the endometrial scratching procedure has been described as generally painless, requiring no anaesthetic, some women do experience discomfort during and after the procedure. The pain is similar to period cramps and there may be slight bleeding afterwards. To help with possible discomfort, patients are advised to take over-the-counter pain medication about an hour before undergoing the scratching procedure.

If you’ve gone through several IVF attempts and are keen on learning more about endometrial scratching, take the next step and ask your fertility specialist if it is right for you.

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A weighty issue

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A weighty issue
How a woman’s weight impacts the risk of miscarriage

A miscarriage is a devastating experience for couples, perhaps even more so for those who have struggled with infertility and gone through the initial joy of a successful fertility treatment. Statistics have shown that in both natural and IVF conception, about one in six pregnancies will end in a miscarriage before the 20th week, with the rate being higher in older couples.

Understandably, couples are frightened of miscarriages and would rather not think or talk about it. However, it is important for couples to understand why miscarriages happen, as well as what they can do to reduce their risks.

Although the exact reason for a miscarriage is often unexplainable, it can occur due to a number of reasons. These include chromosomal abnormality, improper implantation of the egg and maternal health problems or trauma. The mother’s age also plays a significant role, as does her lifestyle, which includes exposure to stress, smoking, drug use, malnutrition, excessive caffeine, radiation and toxins.

Another well-studied factor than increases a woman’s risk for miscarriage, is her weight. As these studies indicate, if the mother is obese or underweight, this increases her risk of not only infertility, but miscarriage as well, regardless of the method of conception.

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According to researchers at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Adelaide, Australia, being overweight increase a woman’s risk of miscarriage by 29%, while being obese can increase the risk by 71% or more. However, for women undergoing assisted reproduction, researchers at the Assisted Fertilization Center, Brazil concluded that maternal obesity could increase the risk of miscarriage by up to 1330%.

Obesity also compounds miscarriage rates in women with PCOS. The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Faculty of Medicine, Erciyes University, Turkey found that the miscarriage rate in obese women with PCOS is about nine times higher than average.

And while miscarriage is often the result of an unhealthy fetus, researchers from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Stanford Hospital and Clinics, CA, USA found that the risk of miscarriage of a healthy fetus is significantly higher in obese women (with BMIs of 25 or more).

While obesity has been identified as a risk factor for spontaneous miscarriage, the mechanism for it remains unclear. But a study by The Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine, The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, Sheffield, UK points to the endocrinological changes in obesity as possibily causing complex adverse effects including circulating adipokines, sex steroids and insulin resistance.

Women who are underweight, with a BMI of under 20, also face an increased miscarriage risk. A study by researchers at the German Cancer Research Centre found that pregnant women who were underweight faced a 70 % higher risk of having a miscarriage.

Therefore, it can be concluded that among intrauterine environmental factors, nutrition appears to play the most critical role in influencing placental and fetal growth. Since maternal undernutrition or overnutrition during pregnancy can impair fetal growth, women must adopt healthier diets and incorporate exercise to lower their risk of miscarriage.

If you have any concerns regarding miscarriage, especially after IVF, please do not hesitate to consult with your fertility consultant for advice.

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What you should know about PGD & PGS

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What you should know about PGD & PGS

If you and your partner have been struggling with fertility issues and are seriously considering In-Vitro Fertilisation or IVF, the consideration of whether you should be undergoing PGD and PGS on top of an IVF can be quite daunting. This is because, in normal IVF procedures, the best embryos are selected based on their appearance and morphology only. Therefore, the genetic content of those embryos or any chromosomal abnormality cannot be detected. However, by undergoing PGD and PGS, you will be able to screen your embryos for any potential genetic and chromosomal issues.  However, before we jump into the band wagon of having PGS or PGD, there are a few things we need to consider.

 

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What is PGS?
PGS stands for Pre-implantation Genetic Screening. In PGS, a cell is taken from an embryo  which was created following an IVF procedure, so that it can be tested for chromosomal abnormalities before the embryo is transferred to the womb. This test will be able to tell us whether the embryo has normal sets of chromosomes. However, it will not be able to tell us whether this embryo has a genetic problem or not.

It is important to note that not all the patients going through an IVF required a PGS. You may want to consider it if:

  • You are of advanced maternal age, whereby embryos may show greater levels of chromosomal abnormalities.
  • You have had recurrent miscarriages.
  • You have had repeated IVF failure.
  • Either of you has a chromosome rearrangement.

The PGS procedure involves:
1. You will undergo a normal IVF treatment and your eggs will be collected and fertilised.
2. An embryo is grown in the laboratory for a few days.
3. An embryologist will perform a biopsy and remove a few cells, usually on day 3 or 5.
4. All 24 chromosomes are analysed (22 non-sex chromosomes and two sex chromosomes X & Y).
5. If the embryo is normal, it will be transferred into your womb.
6. Any remaining unaffected embryos can be frozen for later use.
7. Affected embryos will be allowed to perish.

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What is PGD?
PGD is an abbreviation for Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis. In PGD, a cell is taken from an IVF embryo so that it can be tested for a specific genetic condition before the embryo is transferred to the womb. It can be used to test for any genetic condition that is known to be caused by a specific gene.

At present, PGD is used to screen for more than 250 genetic conditions, such as Huntington’s disease, Cystic fibrosis, Thalassaemia, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Fragile-XPDG to name but a few. Therefore, PGD enables individuals with an inheritable genetic condition to avoid passing it on to their children. The PGD process is more tidious and challenging compared to PGS. It is used to test for a specific genetic disease which is known to your family, i.e. you or your partner is confirmed a carrier of a specific gene at a certain point of the chromosome. You need to bear in mind that by performing a PGD, it does not mean that screening of ALL genetic diseases are performed at the same time. This is because human beings have millions of gene and it is impossible to screen ALL of the genes in one go.

However, not all IVF patients need to undergo PGD. You may want to consider it, or your specialist may recommend it to you if:

• You or your partner (or both) are carriers of single gene mutations.
• You ended a previous pregnancy due to a serious genetic condition.
• You have a child with a serious genetic condition.
• Either of you has a family history of a serious genetic condition or chromosome problems.

The PGD procedure involves

1. You will undergo a normal IVF treatment and your eggs will be collected and fertilised.
2. An embryo is grown in the laboratory for a few days, until it has divided into around 8 cells.
3. An embryologist will remove one or two of the cells from the embryo.
4. The cells are tested to see if the embryo has a gene that causes a genetic condition.
5. If the embryo is free of any genetic condition, it is transferred to the womb.
6. Any remaining unaffected embryos can be frozen for later use.
7. Affected embryos will be allowed to perish.

Since PGD and PGS help detect genetic conditions and chromosomal abnormalities, they help IVF patients to decide if they wish to continue with pregnancy.

The Pros and Cons of PGD and PGS
Before you decide on undergoing PGD or PGS, your fertility consultant will explain their pros and cons to you, which include:

Pros

  • They can detect an inherited chromosomal or genetic issues and help prevent passing chromosomal or genetic diseases to the next generations
  • They are a form of early detection of chromosomal or genetic problems before the embryo is transferred back into the uterus.
  • They help increase a couple’s chances of conceiving a healthy child.
  • It allows older women to still have viable children.

Cons

  • There is a risk that embryos may be traumatized or destroyed due to damage during the biopsy process.
  • There is always a possibility of an undetected disease, as no form of testing can guarantee 100% accuracy
  • The test is expensive
  • You may not have any embryos to transfer after the IVF & PGD/PGS , which is frustrating for patients because after investing time, money & effort, the result can be disappointing
  • There is no guarantee that an embryo which had been screened will definitely get implanted after being transferred into the uterus. Therefore, there is no guarantee that a PGS/PGD embryo will give you a life birth.

If you and your partner are interested in or have any concerns about PGD and PGS, be sure to speak to your fertility specialist to address concerns, inquiries and options.

Our IVF Journey

One of the most important lesson that I have learnt from my mentor in IVF is that IVF is equivalent to an exam. The likelihood of passing an exam (aka. achieve a pregnancy) is increased if you are prepared for it. Half of the battle is won not during the battle itself but during the preparation for the battle.

As a seasoned student (I have been through many exams including my professional exams), I could not agree more. A famous Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher, Sun Tzi (600 B.C.), who authored the famous book ‘the Art of War’ had clearly illustrated and emphasized the importance of being ‘prepared’ as the secret of a victory.

Therefore, before you embark on your journey of IVF, would you join the wining team by preparing yourself for the battle?

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