Poor Responder Needs To Know IVF Is Not All About Numbers: It ‘s About One Good Embryo

Question:

Hi Dr. Ramirez,

My name is A. and I am writing from Michigan. I am 33 years old and have DOR with an AMH of <.16, Hashimoto’s and positive ANA’s. I am on day 10 of stims for IVF #2 and responding poorly compared to our first attempt. I am hoping you could answer a few questions regarding the cause of the diminished response (compared to the first) and also give your opinion regarding canceling the cycle.

IVF #1 (March 2013):
BCP suppression 5 weeks
225 iu Bravelle, 150 iu Menopur, Ganirelix days 8-10. Stimmed for 10 days.
Day 5 of stims: 6 follies: 9-10 mm, E2 301
Day 10 of stims: 7 follies: 19-21 mm, E2 724
Retrieved 8 eggs, 6 mature, 4 fertilized with ICSI, 2 transferred (grade B’s, no frag), none to freeze.

IVF #2 (in progress):
BCP suppression 4 weeks
225 iu Bravelle, 225 iu Menopur, Ganirelix added day 8 of stims.
Day 7 of stims: 6 follies: 12, 12, 9, 9, 9, 9 mm, E2 243
Day 10 of stims: 4 follies: 15, 14, 11, 10 mm, E2 495
There are five factors that have changed since the first cycle. 1) Menopur was increased by 75 iu. 2) Ganirelix was introduced when follies were smaller at just 12 mm. 3) Slightly less time on BCP suppression; less one week 4) Added Methylprednisolone 16 mg. 5) Discontinued DHEA 50 mg and Myo-Inositol 2 g.
What could be causing the poorer response, loss of follicles and slow growth? Is there anything that can be done to speed up growth and/or catch up the 10 and 11? Does the slow growth speak to poor egg quality?
I am okay with going to retrieval with so few follicles as I realize I have DOR and cannot expect a normal response. However, with having had a better response previously, would you recommend canceling at this point? Why?
This is such a stressful time for us, so I greatly appreciate your attention and feedback.
A. from Michigan

Answer:

Hello A. from the U.S. (Michigan),

First, you should know that ovaries can and will respond differently with each cycle regardless of the protocol used.  That is to say that even poor responders will respond better or worst from one cycle to the next.

In your case, I can make several observations which may be helpful to you:

1.  Despite a low AMH, you have responded pretty well with each cycle.  You had 14 follicles and 10 in the second.  This is not a sign of a poor responder.  Poor responders tend to have less than 10 total follicles.  In addition, your stimulation was not that high, so I would say you are a pretty average (normal) responder.

2.  As mentioned, your stimulation protocol was in the mid-range (375 IU and 450 IU).  The max protocol that most clinics use is up to 600 IU (450 FSH + 150 FSH/LH (menopur).  So in terms of stimulation, you have lots of room to improve.

3.  You mentioned starting Ganerelix when the follicles were 12 mms.  That is way too soon in my opinion.  Based on European studies and over 10 years of use by myself, I do not start Ganerelix until the lead follicles are at least 16 mms and preferably when the 30% or more are between 16-18 mms.  The purpose of Ganerelix is to prevent premature ovulation so I hold it until the very latest that I can to allow the follicles to develop without suppression.  Starting too early will lead the smaller follicles to stop growing.

None of this implies low egg quality or poor outcome.  It is part of the “art” of assisted reproduction and what distinguishes one doctor or clinic from another.  Bottom line is that IVF is not all about numbers.  It is about getting at last one good embryo to attach and lead to a pregnancy.  For that reason, even if there are fewer follicles I recommend that you keep going just in case the perfect embryo is in this group.

Good Luck,
Edward J. Ramirez, M.D., F.A.C.O.G.
Executive Medical Director
The Fertility and Gynecology Center
Monterey Bay IVF Program
www.montereybayivf.com

Monterey, California, U.S.A.