1 in 7 British couples have diffiulty conceiving. Common responses include IUI (intrauterine insemination) or IVF (in vitro fertilisation), with drugs to encourage ovulation.
Acupuncture is increasingly and successfully being used as an adjunct to modern fertility treatments. Fertility clinics, such as Hammersmith Hospital in London, have even set up an on-site acupuncture service.
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It has been a busy few months with lots happening. Here is a quick round up of my clinic news, an exciting new partnership, my answer to the question "What do people most commonly have acupuncture for?" and... an imminent TV appearance!
Kate Winstanley is the 'Preferred Acupuncturist' at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital's Assisted Conception Unit.
She works closely with the consultants advising on acupuncture and treating referred patients at her nearby clinic.
Here Kate answers some commonly asked questions about how to go about incorporating acupuncture into your IVF process.
When is it best to start acupuncture treatment?
Pre-Conception: If there is time, I generally recommend 3 months of pre-conception care coming for weekly or 2-weekly treatments. During this time I can also look at any lifestyle changes that need to be made.
When should I come during the IVF process?
Pre-Egg Collection: In the month before egg collection come once a week. Acupuncture during this time regulates the stress hormones which may have an impact on follicle development and implantation of the embryo.
Post-Egg Collection: Have an acupuncture treatment within 24 hrs of egg collection.
Pre and Post Embryo Transfer: Have an acupuncture treatment just before and just after embryo transfer.
The 2 week wait: Have a treatment during this time, especially if you are feeling anxious.
If you are under 35, healthy, not unduly stressed, do not have a history of failed IVF cycles then you might choose to have acupuncture just on the day of embryo transfer to increase the chance of embryo implantation.
Why have acupuncture after egg collection?
The IVF side effects are often more marked after this procedure. Hormone levels are still very high so you may experience cramping, headaches, breast soreness and mood swings. The empty follicles often fill up with fluid, so a feeling of bloating may persist. These side effects tend to subside more quickly with acupuncture treatment.
Acupuncture also reduces inflammation and tissue trauma so helps prepare a more conducive environment for the arrival of an embryo in a few days.
Why have acupuncture before and after embryo transfer?
Clinical trials show a beneficial effect of acupuncture when given just before and just after the transfer. Pregnancies were documented in 34 of 80 patients (42.5%) in the acupuncture group. Compared to just 21 patients (26.3%) in the control group.
How does acupuncture work to increase IVF success?
This is a topic of much discussion and on-going research.
Preliminary studies show that a series of acupuncture treatments in the weeks before egg collection have a regulatory effect on the level of stress hormones. It is unclear whether the beneficial impact is on follicle development or embryo implantation, but women who received acupuncture in these trials had greater pregnancy rates than those who did not.
Many doctors think that acupuncture at the time of embryo transfer reduces uterine contractions which might cause an embryo to be expelled or inhibit an embryo from implanting. The acupuncture points used have a moderating effect on the immune system, and this may prevent rejection of embryos.
Can acupuncture help with ‘poor egg quality’?
Egg quality related to age is hard to overcome. However, acupuncture does increase blood flow to the ovaries, thereby enhancing nourishment of the developing follicle and appears to increase responsiveness to IVF drugs.
I have responded poorly to the IVF medication in my last 3 cycles, and produced few eggs. Can acupuncture help?
Possibly. One group of researchers found that it was the IVF poor responders who gained the greatest benefit from the acupuncture administered in the month before egg collection.