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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Exercise and how it affects pregnancy rates

 

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Getting it just right

Exercise and how it affects pregnancy rates

We all know that staying physically active is beneficial to our overall health and wellbeing. But did you know that the right amount of exercise can also improve your chances of conceiving? Here’s why.

Firstly, regular exercise is known to help optimise the reproductive system. It does this by stimulating the endocrine glands, which releases hormones that help your eggs to grow. Secondly, exercise can enhance your metabolism and circulation, which in turn optimises your egg production.

Thirdly, exercise can help you manage or achieve an ideal body weight. Since being overweight or obese can impair fertility in both men and women, weight management is widely known and used to prevent and treat infertility. And lastly, regular workouts also help to relieve stress, which in itself can inhibit fertility.

While regular moderate exercise can have positive effects on fertility and conception, the opposite is true for vigorous exercise.  According to a 2009 study in Human Reproduction, and a Harvard study of elite athletes, vigorous exercise is linked to reduced fertility and pregnancy rates. Therefore, when it comes to exercise and fertility, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

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While there are no guidelines for women to follow when it comes to workout intensity for fertility, there is a way to strike a balance. Studies have shown that women who exercised moderately for at least 30 minutes a day can reduce their risk of infertility due to ovulation disorders. Evidence also suggests that moderate regular exercise can positively influence assisted reproductive technology (ART) outcomes. But what is the right amount of exercise?

If you’re already at your ideal weight, it is safe to stick to your regular routine, but keep it to half an hour maximum per day. Studies had shown that vigorous aerobic exercise of more than 4 hours per week reduces the chance of pregnancy in women going through IVF. If your cycle is still irregular and you haven’t conceived after a few months, you might want to cut back on the intensity of your workouts. However, if you’re underweight, focus on gaining weight and increasing your body fat to the recommended amount of over 12%. If you exercise regularly, cut back on the frequency and opt for a less vigorous routine.

Meanwhile, if you’re overweight, work on cutting down on your calories with healthy eating. You can also increase your exercise routine gradually to achieve your ideal weight. Lastly, if you’re undergoing fertility treatments, it is best to avoid high-impact exercises, as they can be detrimental to your ovaries, which have been enlarged by fertility drugs.

Still have doubts on where to begin? Before you step up your exercise routine, start by speaking to your doctor. If you’ve been having trouble conceiving, your doctor will need to assess your condition first. This includes your age, cycles, ovulatory status, the condition of your uterus and tubes, as well as your partner’s sperm. Once certain conditions have been identified or ruled out, your doctor will be able to advise you on whether the underlying cause may be too little or too much exercise.

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A timely decision

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A timely decision

How age affects your chances of IVF success

Have you been seriously considering In vitro fertilisation or IVF treatment? If you have, it’s best that you understand how your age can affect your chances of success. This is so that you can make an informed decision on when to begin. But before we get into that, let’s take a brief look at IVF and what it entails.

For some couples facing fertility problems, IVF is a viable method that can help them to conceive. During IVF, a woman’s ovaries are stimulated and an egg is removed to be fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. Once fertilised, the egg becomes an embryo, and it is returned to the woman’s womb to develop.

Studies have shown that the success of IVF treatments can be affected by a woman’s age. This is because it’s an inescapable fact that a woman’s fertility declines as she grows older. So if you were to undergo IVF using your own eggs, your chances of conceiving would be higher if you were younger.

According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (UK), in the most recent study conducted in 2010, on average, the percentages of live births resulting from women having IVF using their own fresh eggs are: 32.2% for women aged under 35, 27.7% for women aged between 35–37, 20.8% for women aged between 38–39, 13.6% for women aged between 40–42, 5.0% for women aged between 43–44 and 1.9% for women aged 45 and over.

As you can see from the statistics above, a woman’s fertility begins to decline at around age 30 and this exacerbates at about age 38. By the time she is 44, her chances of having babies via IVF with her own eggs is nearly nonexistent at less than 2%. This is why women above the age of 42 are generally discouraged from undergoing IVF, as the success rate is considered far too low.

Most IVF clinics also have an age limit for IVF treatments that use a woman’s own eggs. This is because the age of the eggs is crucial, not the age of the uterus. But, why is egg age so important? Two words – quality and quantity.

 

'It's my biological clock.'

‘It’s my biological clock.’

But what is egg quality? In fertility, an egg’s quality refers to its chromosomal status. As a woman’s age increases, the risk of chromosomal abnormalities in her eggs also rises. During IVF, we hope to obtain multiple healthy embryos, whereby the best ones will be selected for transfer into the mother’s uterus. But before embryos are transferred, we need to check their chromosomal status. Therefore, the embryos undergo Preimplantation Genetic Screening or PGS, which checks for chromosomal normalcy. On average, healthy embryos with normal chromosomes have a much higher potential for implantation and live birth.

Meanwhile, egg ‘quantity’ refers to how many eggs are left in a woman’s ovaries. As such, her egg quantity is often called her “ovarian reserve”. Although egg quantity doesn’t greatly impact the chances of a natural conception, in IVF, egg quantity may influence a woman’s response to ovarian- stimulating medications.

So if you’re considering IVF, don’t hesitate to ask questions and seek the advice of a fertility consultant. The information you receive can help you make a decision on when best to start your treatment.

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