Sunday, May 16, 2010

Follow Up Question From 30 Yr Old Austrian Who Failed 5 IVF Cycles & Is Trying Once Again

This is a follow-up question from a young woman with possible PCOS in Austria, who first wrote me in March. Please view the first two questions she posed in order to fully understand the problems she and her husband face. See the March 18th blog post:


Dear Dr. Ramirez,

I had asked you a couple of questions two months ago, and thought of you now as we are preparing to do another IVF. I copy below what you suggested in terms of protocol for me (PCO-like stimulator), since I discussed it with my doctor and he is not sure that this kind of protocol can be done with the medicines available in Austria. You said:"Patients start at a low dose of Follistim 150IU for three days then the estradiol level is checked for response. If there is not a high response then I step up the dosage to Follistim 150IU + Menopur 75. We continue the same pattern of checking and adjusting the dosage as needed. I don't use Lupron agonist suppression (long protocol), but instead use the Antagonist Ganerelix. When the follicles are appropriate sized, I trigger with Lupron 0.5 mg instead of Ovidrel. These combination and protocol has been shown to be effective in preventing hyperstimulation syndrome"

The protocol he gave me last time (Dec. 2009) (starting on day 3 of cycle) was:Day 3-5 Gonal-f (150IU)Day 6 Gonal-f (112 IU)Day 7 Gonal-f (112 IU) + Cetrotide (one shot 0,25 mg)Day 8 Cetrotide (0,25mg) + Pergoveris shotDay 9 Cetrotide (0,25 mg) + Pergoveris shotDay 10 Cetrotide (0,25 mg) + Pergoveris shotDay 11 Cetrotide (0,25 mg) + Pergoveris shot Triggering with OvitrelleEven though this protocol was substantially reduced in quantity of medication, I still had 15 eggs and mild-hyperstimulation (enough for being 3-4 days uncomfortable to breathe and in pain and swollen all around).

The doctor is now proposing a similar protocol to this, but reducing from 150 IU to 112 IU to start and see what happens. I showed him your suggestion and he was receptive but I don't know if the medicines you suggested can't be found here or if what he is suggesting is similar to what you suggested. We are thinking of not having a treatment here anymore and moving onto a treatment in the States. In an ultrasound on day 19 of my cycle, he saw that I had ovulated recently and noted that I have/had around 15 follicles (or left overs of follicles) in my two ovaries. I was really shocked since I have been medication free for 6 months, so I didn't expect that's normal to have so many follicles on a natural cycle, he said that could mean I have a high ovarian reserve and could be a sign of why I hyperstimulate every time no matter what medicine they have given me.

My questions:

Is the protocol he proposes similar to what you wrote above?
What do you think about this empty follicles in my ovaries now?

Also, he has me taking Thyrex for my thyroid (one pill of 50 mg per day) since I started treatment with him over 10 months ago because my TSH level was over 4, and he wants to keep it at around 1, but am I supposed to take this pill forever? for Hypothyroidism? That's what he said, that until I achieve a pregnancy and give birth, I should be taking that pill.

Another question: What do you think about that? My TSH has been at around 1 since i started taking the pill. Regarding my husband's sperm (CF gene), they have been using his frozen samples for all treatments, saying that the freezing and thawing act as natural selection, whatever survives is better for ICSI than trying with fresh sperm. Do you think is better to use fresh sperm for ICSI? or frozen?

Finally, we are thinking of going to a US clinic because in Austria PGD is prohibited, and for us they have been doing polar biopsy of my eggs to only transfer the embryos which fertilized with the better eggs, but as you noted in your previous emails, the embryos should be checked as well to eliminate any effect by my husband's sperm...correct?

So thank you so much for your answers, we are about to cancel the cycle here which starts in one week and move on to make an appointment in the States with you or another clinic which can take us.

Receive my warm regards, L. from Austria


Hello Again,

I am happy, yet surprised to hear that your doctor was receptive to my suggestions. I do not dispense recommendations with the expectation that patients will share it with their Physicians. It is mainly for patient knowledge. I do not mean to intrude on that doctor-patient relationship, nor your doctor's judgement, since they usually know you better, and many doctors will be offended.

The medications Gonal-f and Follistim are the same, but made by different companies. Cetrotide is the same as Ganerelix. Gonal-f and Cetrotide are made by Serono, whereas, Follistim and Ganerelix are made by Organon. They are interchangeable. Based on the protocol you showed me, you were already on a pretty low dose protocol. Since, despite this, you hyperstimulated, I would reduce the dose further to a starting dose of 75IU or 37IU Gonal-f. I would probably fight the inclination to increase the dose above this because you seem pretty sensitive and 75IU may be all that you need to get an adequate number of mature eggs.

The Pergoveris is the same as Menopur (FSH/LH). If it is added, as your doctor did previously, he might want to reduce the dose to 37.5 IU (half-dose), but it isn't absolutely necessary. Some studies have shown decreased hyperstimulation in PCO patients when the FSH/LH is left off because PCO patients tend to have an elevation in LH production.

Once your lead follicles reach 15 mms (at least 20% of the follicles), Cetrotide should be started at 0.25 mg per day and continued until the trigger shot. The Gonal-f may need to be increased because of this ovarian suppression, and you should expect a decrease/drop in the estradiol level initially because some of the smaller follicles will stop developing due to the suppression and stop producing estradiol. That is okay and the cycle should be continued (this is contradictory to current thought, where if the estradiol drops the cycle is usually cancelled).

The trigger should NOT be HCG or Ovidrel. Instead, Lupron 0.5mg (50 mcg) should be used subcutaneously as the trigger. This has been shown, in European studies, to be just as effective as HCG but because of a shorter 1/2 life (the amount of time the drug is in your system), there is a decreased incidence of hyperstimulation.

In addition, to the above, I will also sometimes use "drifting/coasting" if it looks like the estradiol level will go above 4000 before the lead follicles are at a mature size. This requires that the doctor predict the levels on a daily basis and the drift/coast is not started until the lead follicles are at least 16 mms. You doctor should understand what this technique is. But, just in case he is not familiar with it, it is where the stimulationn with Gonal-f and/or FSH/LH is stopped but the ultrasound surveillance continues until the lead follicles reach 18-24 mms, then the trigger is given.

Finally, your doctor is correct that the TSH (thyroid hormone) levels have to be in the normal range, otherwise this can have an adverse effect on your pregnancy chances. As I said previously, PGD is the only way to rule out your husband's CF gene from the embryo, as egg polar body biopsy only evaluates the egg (your genes), and frozen sperm is just as good as fresh sperm. I am flattered that you would consider us for a second opinion, thank you. If you do decide to come to the U.S. I would certainly enjoy meeting you and your husband and be assured that our center would do anything that it can to accommodate you and help you succeed.

In closing, tell you doctor that I have had patients where I even start the Gonal-f/Follistim at 37.5IU and step up to 75 or 150IU, so he might want to consider that in you since you are so sensitive.

The very best of luck,

Edward J. Ramirez, M.D., FACOG
Executive Medical Director
The Fertility and Gynecology Center
Monterey Bay IVF Program
Monterey, California, U.S.A.

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