Older Infertile Couples and In Vitro Fertilization
Other fertility treatments less likely to result in pregnancy, birth for women over 38, researchers say
By Dennis Thompson
TUESDAY, May 6, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Middle-aged couples who want to have a baby but are having trouble conceiving should go straight to in vitro fertilization (IVF), skipping other types of fertility treatment, a new clinical trial recommends.
Researchers found that women aged 38 and older were more than twice as likely to become pregnant through IVF within their first two cycles of treatment than if they used oral or injectable fertility drugs. They also were twice as likely to have a successful birth from that pregnancy.
"In this age group, time really is of the essence," said lead researcher Marlene Goldman, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine, in Lebanon, N.H. "Moving to a more effective treatment quicker is the way to go."
By the end of the trial, more than four out of five babies successfully birthed had been conceived using IVF.
The normal progression of fertility treatment calls for artificial insemination combined with the oral fertility drug clomiphene first, followed by insemination accompanied by injectable medications called gonadotropins or follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH), researchers said in background information.
If those two methods fail, doctors then proceed to IVF. The mother's egg and the father's sperm are joined in a laboratory dish, and the resulting embryo is then implanted into the mother's womb.
Insurance companies have been reluctant to cover IVF, which can cost between $6,000 to $15,000, compared with $500 a cycle for oral medication and $2,500 a cycle for injectable fertility drugs, Goldman said. Only about one of every five states require that IVF be covered by health plans.
By going directly to IVF, doctors can help women in mid-life conceive despite the "double whammy" of fewer eggs produced by the ovaries and eggs that are genetically abnormal due to their age, said Dr. Avner Hershlag, chief of the Center for Human Reproduction at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.
"We fertility doctors should not allow our patients to age under our watch," Hershlag said. "Insurance companies should be encouraged to change coverage following this important, well-designed study."
The study, which was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was published online April 29 in Fertility and Sterility.
In this study, 154 middle-aged couples with unexplained infertility at two Boston fertility centers were randomly split into three groups. One group received oral fertility treatment, the second received injectable medication and the third went straight to IVF.
The participating couples had to have been trying to conceive for at least six months, without previously using any of the treatments in the study. The female partner had to be between 38 and 42, and both partners had to be in relatively good reproductive health.