How Can Acupuncture Help IVF?
In Vitro Fertilization and Acupuncture
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Many of my patients ask about acupuncture treatments and IVF. They have visited a number of Web sites claiming to improve IVF success rates. The patients report the procedure is relaxing and lowers stress. So, I decided to put on my medical hat and approach the subject with an open mind.
My investigation started with a review of various published research trials. A number of studies looked at IVF success rates retrospectively. There are a number of biases with this sort of approach. If the study was based on the patients desire to do or pay for acupuncture that may skew the results as the two comparison groups are not really the same. A better approach is to select the group of patients to treat and randomly which group will get one treatment and which will be the control groups. These studies may be biased by the selection of an inappropriate control group. Should the control group receive sham acupuncture, the needles never enter the skin or are placed in locations not deemed appropriate by Chinese medicine practitioners or do the controls simply go about their normal life? If a benefit is noted, is it due to relaxation or the treatment?
There are two rather large randomized clinical trials with conflicting results. They used different treatment protocols. When considering acupuncture, many questions remain. Which locations should be treated, how many times and when in relation to the IVF treatment? In some of the reported studies, nurses rather than licensed acupuncturists were providing the treatment? Does the experience of the provider affect the results? In fact, some of the studies used treatment locations that are contraindicated during pregnancy are believed to have an adverse effect on outcome.
Is it appropriate to standardize treatment, or should acupuncture treatment be individualized. Various points of view are available. As far as studies are concerned, the more factors that are controlled and similar between patients, the more certain we can be that the effect is related to the treatment. But, I’m not sure that is always the best approach. Assuming that each person should receive the same acupuncture treatment is like saying that all infertility patients should undergo laparoscopy and ovarian drilling. Now, that may be beneficial for some women with PCOS, it would certainly not be of benefit to couples with male factor. Before recommending a specific treatment, I will evaluate the patient, consider options and present the patient with various treatment alternatives. Similarly, a qualified practitioner of acupuncture will complete a holistic evaluation and develop a treatment plan based on their evaluation and the fundamentals of Chinese medicine. That said, I’m not really certain whether a standard IVF acupuncture treatment or a Chinese medicine evaluation and treatment plan is the better option.
I was fortunate to visit with Mark Schwartz, L.Ac, yesterday at his Atlanta practice. I found his evaluation thorough and enjoyed speaking with him about his approach. After a relaxing neck and shoulder massage, about 18-24 needles were inserted. These needles are smaller than the ones on the pen injections and I did not feel the majority of them so don’t really know how many needles were inserted. One or two in an area corresponding to soreness in foot was a bit more tender, but the treatment was much less uncomfortable than I had anticipated. After about 25 minutes, the needles were removed and I hopped off the table.
My guess is that the acupuncture will not likely affect my fertility, it may improve the outcomes for my IVF patients. After discussing the various studies I have come to the conclusion that acupuncture may improve success rates by about 12-14 percent for most couples. Whether it’s due to egg quality, fertilization, embryo quality of implantation is not entirely clear. Please review the Web sites below for more information.
Video: IVF, Fertility Treatment, Assisted Conception, pregnancy, Test Tube Baby
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