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Infertility: acupuncture and assisted methods

Published:Wednesday | May 16, 2012 | 12:00 AM

For many couples having difficulty conceiving, methods such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI) are welcome and promising options. Recent studies suggest an increased success rate for these procedures when performed...

In vitro fertilisation

IVF manually combines an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. Once the embryo formation is successful, it is placed in the uterus.

The success rate in the United States for live birth rate with each IVF cycle is approximately:

30 to 35 per cent for women under age 35

25 per cent for women ages 35 to 37

15 to 20 per cent for women ages 38 to 40

6 to 10 per cent for women ages over 40

IVF may be done with a couple's own eggs and sperm or with donor eggs, sperm, or embryos. Some couples choose to use donor eggs, sperm, or embryos because of genetic concerns.

Intrauterine insemination

IUI involves placing a number of washed sperm directly inside a woman's uterus with a catheter to facilitate fertilisation. This fertility treatment does not involve the manipulation of a woman's eggs. The goal is to increase the number of sperm that reach the fallopian tubes by giving them a head start and subsequently increase the chance of fertilisation.

IUI may be selected as a fertility treatment with any of the following conditions:

Unexplained infertility

Low sperm count

Decreased sperm mobility

Requirement of donor sperm

A hostile cervical condition, such as cervical mucus that is too thick

Cervical scar tissue from past procedures or endometriosis

Ejaculation dysfunction

Women under the age of 35 usually have higher rates of success but the average success rate is 10 to 20 per cent in one cycle. With IUI, as with other methods of artificial insemination, the success rate depends primarily on the health of both the sperm and the woman.

The benefit of acupuncture

Studies suggest that the introduction of acupuncture to the IVF and IUI protocol increases success/live births by 10 to 15 per cent. Acupuncture helps to:

Improve the circulation of qi/energy and blood in the reproductive system and in particular the pelvis.

Improve ovarian function.

Prevent miscarriage.

Acupuncture treatments are performed by inserting and gently stimulating very thin needles at various points on the body, in a generally comfortable procedure.

Course of treatment

It is best to begin weekly treatments 4-6 weeks prior to the start of the IVF or IUI process and throughout the course. Treatments should continue throughout the 1st trimester (first 3 months of pregnancy) post embryo transfer in the case of IVF and post insemination in the case of IUI, particularly in cases where there exists a history of pregnancy loss as this is when there is the greatest chance of a miscarriage occurring.

Dr Tracey-Ann Brown is an oriental medicine practitioner, herbalist and doctor of acupuncture; email: