Fertility Topics Explained from the Experts at SFS
Mini-IVF is a procedure that involves ovarian stimulation using low dosage medications (often oral drugs like clomiphene and letrozole) under the premise that it is a “safer” and less expensive than conventional gonadotropin stimulation regimes while yielding comparable success. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that success rates per fresh mini-IVF cycle range between 10% and 12% (i.e., about one third of that which reported national average for conventional IVF performed on women under 39y of age). And when it comes to older women and those with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), the success rate with mini-IVF is usually much lower still. There can be little doubt that aside from a woman’s age, the method used for ovarian stimulation represents the most important determinant of egg/embryo quality and thus of IVF outcome. There is no single stimulation protocol that is suitable for all IVF patients. It must be individualized…. especially when it comes to women who, regardless of their age have diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) and for women over >40y of age. The reason for this is that in such cases, the pituitary gland often over-produces LH which in turn causes the ovarian stroma/theca (connective tissue) to thicken (stromal hyperplasia/hyperthecosis) and over-produce male hormones (mainly testosterone). This in turn adversely influences egg and follicle growth, resulting in poor egg/embryo “competency” and compromised IVF outcome. So let us examine the validity of the claims made in support of mini-IVF:
What is the best approach? When it comes to older women and those with DOR, it is in my opinion preferable to use a long pituitary down-regulation protocol with conversion from an I.M agonist (e.g. Lupron or Buserelin) to an antagonist such as Cetrotide/Orgalutron or Ganirelix (the agonist/antagonist conversion protocol) augmented with human growth hormone (HGH) and/or estrogen priming and combing this “embryo banking” over several cycles. In such cases preimplantation genetic testing (PGT) can be incorporated to help select the most “competent” embryos for transfer. What about younger women with normal or increased ovarian reserve? If mini-IVF has any role at all, it could be in young women who have normal or increased ovarian reserve. I do not o not advocate aggressively stimulating the ovaries of younger women who have normal or increased ovarian reserve (as assessed by basal FSH, AMH and estradiol) simply to try and access more eggs. In fact, such an approach is neither safe nor acceptable. In such women it is often wiser to use lower dosage stimulation to try and prevent the development of severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) which aside from putting the woman at severe risk of (sometimes) life-endangering complications, can also compromise egg/embryo quality. However, it is my fervent belief that in such women, the preferred approach to ovarian stimulation is through the use of low dosage FSHr-dominant gonadotropins (rather than oral agents such as clomiphene or letrozole and/or high dosage Menopur). This approach is referred to as Micro-IVF.
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