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New Trends in Infertility Treatment

Experts describe the latest advances in techniques for treating infertility.

Eastern Techniques continued...

Acupuncture got mixed reviews in studies presented at the 2006 ASRM meeting. In one study of more than 1,400 cycles, three acupuncture sessions before and after embryo transfer improved the fertilization rate -- especially in women over age 35 who used fresh (rather than frozen) embryo transfer and in women 35 to 39 who used frozen embryo transfer.

Another study of 258 women showed that needle acupuncture (compared with laser, relaxation, or none) boosted the pregnancy rate by 10%. But yet another study showed among 83 women -- who either got or didn't get acupuncture -- that the ancient technique made no difference in whether they got pregnant.

Acupuncture and other complementary treatments may also ease a woman's stress, says Ringler, and that is always helpful in achieving pregnancy. Even though studies are conflicting about acupuncture's value, Ringler says it's not known to have any harmful effects. One caveat: "It's important that there is a dialogue between the reproductive endocrinologist and the Eastern practitioner if you are going to go along with a complementary treatment regimen," Ringler says.

How Best to Stimulate Eggs

For years, doctors used the drug Clomid to stimulate a woman's body to produce more eggs. Recently, some doctors have turned to a drug approved for breast cancer treatment, Femara, to induce ovulationovulation.

Then, in a study presented in 2005 at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine meeting, researchers had some alarming news. They found that nearly 5% of 150 babies born after the use of Femara had birth defects, compared with less than 2% of 36,000 babies born without their mothers receiving fertilityfertility treatment.

Soon, Health Canada and the drug's maker in Canada, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada, warned doctors there against Femara use in fertility treatments.

More recently, researchers who published their results in the June 2006 issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility found no difference in birth defect rates when they followed 911 infants whose mothers had taken either Clomid or Femara during fertility treatments.

Even so, the first study results have dampened the interest of most fertility specialists in the U.S. in using Femara, Ory says, at least until more data are in.

With all the new avenues, what are the odds of taking home a baby? According to the CDC, 37% of fresh (not frozen) nondonor egg procedures begun in 2003 produced live births in women under age 35. The percent of live births declines as a woman ages. But among women of any age who used donor eggs, 50% took home a baby, according to the CDC.

Footing the Bill

For an infertile couple, achieving pregnancypregnancy can be expensive. IVF treatments cost up to $12,000 per cycle, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Ovarian stimulation plus IUI is about $500 to $1,000 per cycle, Ringler estimates.

Whether fertility treatments are partially covered by insurance depends on where you live and which insurance plan you are covered by, says the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Currently, 15 states have laws about infertility treatment and insurance, according to Resolve: The National Infertility Association. But the specifics vary. Best bet: call the insurance commissioner's office in your state to ask.


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