Friday, August 26, 2011

37 Year Old Fails 3 Clomid Cycles & 2 IUI's: What Should She Do Next?


Dear Dr. Ramirez: thank you for your great service!

I just turned 37 years old and have been ttc for 1 year already. My cycles all my life have been like clockwork (ovulating on day 13 in a 26day cycle). After charting and some blood tests during the early months of ttc, I realized I had low progesterone. I was put on suppositories and after another 6 months of no success, I was put on 50mg Clomid. That's when my cycle was completely thrown off. On Clomid cycle #1, I ovulated on day 19 (much later than normal), on Clomid cycle #2, I ovulated on day 14. Both cycles were followed by unsuccessful IUIs (intra uterine inseminations). On Clomid cycle #3, I ovulated on day 11, so we missed it and didn't do IUI. On cycle #4, I ovulated on day 10 and I did two back-to back IUI (again unsuccessful). My lining is fine, there are no cysts and all my blood work on all hormone levels is good within healthy normal levels. In fact my hormone levels were normal when I tested during my natural cycle before taking Clomid. Only progesterone was low and the suppositories didn't provide enough (day 21 showed 12 only), so 2 months ago I was put on PIO and that works like magic (level was 33 and 36 on day 21).

I read in on your blog that women who ovulate on their own shouldn't take clomid, which may REDUCE their chances of getting pregnant. Did we undertake the wrong treatment? Again, until I started clomid, you could set your watch by my cycle and I could check my ovulation using the monitor. After taking Clomid, my monitor cannot register any hormone changes and peak ovulation anymore. I was told that given my age the next thing to do is move to a more aggressive treatment (injectables), but if I was so regular and ovulating on my own, why do i need the injectables?

The fertility center never did an ultrasound to see how mature my follicles are during my natural cycle (they did this only when I was on Clomid), so my inclination is to get off clomid and try a natural cycle for a few more months again and ask them to see if my follicles are large enough. Would you think that's wise or shall I move to more aggressive treatments? My husband's sperm count varies from 25mil to 100mil during the IUI cycles. He also had average motility of 90%. Semen analysis also indicated 80% morphology.

Thank you kindly for any advice you may be able to offer. L. R. from Lancaster, PA


Hello L. from the U.S. (Pennsylvania),

The main problem, and only problem that you have identified, is your age. I call this the age related egg factor. This means that the eggs have aged and have decreased in quality and viability. A study was done to look at embryos created at 37 years old and did genetic testing on those embryos and found that only 20% were normal, a reflection of egg quality. So that is the hill that you are trying to overcome.

In this case, the use of fertility medications is to achieve "superovulation" not ovulation. The main use of Clomid is to induce ovulation in women that are not ovulating but in older women, the goal is to increase the number of eggs that you ovulate to increase the chances that you will ovulate a good egg. In my patients over 35, my goal is to get them to ovulate 3-5 eggs per cycle. In my blog what I am referring to is the tendency for general docs (family practice and Ob/Gyn's) who automatically place an infertility patient on Clomid without finding out the root cause of their infertility, as if Clomid were some magic drug. They are misusing the medication.

In your case, because you stated that you are at a fertility center, I presume that you have undergone an infertility evaluation and nothing was found except for your age, so superovulation would be a reasonable first step. I also don't recommend consecutive Clomid cycles because Clomid works by blocking estrogen receptors and too much Clomid with block the estrogen receptors that are necessary for fertility, such as tubal motility, endometrial lining development and cervical mucous production. In that case repetitive Clomid cycles can lead to infertility by blocking these receptors.

Because of your age, I do believe that you need to pursue an aggressive treatment plan. I usually do not recommend more than 4 IUI cycles as part of an aggressive treatment plan because studies have shown that most patients will get pregnant within four attempts and pregnancy rates decrease dramatically after four. Keep in mind that at your age, your pregnancy rate per IUI cycle is only 12%. But if you want to continue to try IUI, then it is reasonable to try with injectables, although these meds are a lot more expensive, for two more carefully monitored and timed cycles. Then if that is not successful, I would strongly encourage you to proceed to IVF.

By carefully monitoring, I mean that ultrasound screening should begin at cycle day #9 the proceed from there depending on the size of the follicles. The closer you get to ovulatory size, the more frequent the ultrasounds will be. HCG should be given to trigger the ovulation. IUI's should be done at 24 and 48 hrs after the HCG trigger and then the progesterone is started the day following the second IUI and continued until the bHCG. Progesterone should be given as a vaginal suppository 2-3 times per day depending on the formulation.

Good Luck and thank you for reading my blog!

Dr. 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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