How Many Times Should You Try IVF Before Giving Up?

18 Dec
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Button - Ask Dr Sher MedBecause of the emotional, physical, and financial toll exacted by IVF, it is preferable that a couple undertake the process with the mindset that they will be in it for more than one attempt. If a couple can only afford one treatment cycle, IVF may not be the right course of action. Recall that on average, with conventional IVF, there is only about one chance in three that it will result in a live birth, and there is a tremendous letdown if it fails. It is thus unreasonable to undergo IVF with the attitude that “if it doesn’t work the first time, we’re giving up.” In vitro fertilization is a gamble even in the best of circumstances.

Statistically speaking, a woman under 40 years of age, using her own eggs, having selected a good IVF program is likely to have a better than 70% chance of having a baby within three completed attempts – provided that she has adequate ovarian reserve, (the ability to producing several follicles/eggs in response to gonadotropin stimulation), has a fertile male partner (or sperm donor sperm) with access to motile sperm, and has a normal and receptive uterus capable of developing an “adequate” uterine lining. Women of 39-43 years of age who meet the same criteria, will likely have about half that chance (35%- 40%).

When the most “competent” embryos are selected for transfer using a new genetic process (introduced into the clinical arena by SIRM in 2005), known as comparative genomic hybridization (CGH), the birth rate per single, completed IVF cycle is likely to exceed 60% (regardless of the age of the egg provider) and, more than 85% within three such attempts.

Unfortunately, there will inevitably always be some women/couples who in spite of best effort at conventional IVF will unfortunately remain childless. In my considered opinion, it rarely advisable to undergo more than three IVF attempts using the same approach each time. There is of course one important caveat: in women where the reason for repeated IVF failure is finally uncovered, it would indeed be justifiable (assuming there are sufficient emotional, physical and financial resources) to continue trying, using a defined and new approach that addresses the reason for prior failures. Simply stated, “the time to stop trying is when there is no remediable explanation for repeated failure to achieve a viable pregnancy”.

One very interesting case comes to mind. It happened a few years back when I consulted with a 42 year old Australian patient (she happened to also be a physician) who had undergone 22 prior failed attempts at IVF elsewhere. After determining that the reason for prior failures (at least in part) was due to a hitherto unrecognized immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID), I took her through yet another IVF attempt using selective immunotherapy. She conceived (using her own eggs) and went on to have a healthy baby boy. This case serves to point out that the time to stop doing IVF should not always be based on the number of prior failed attempts alone.

When conventional IVF (with or without egg donation and/or CGH embryo selection) fails to yield a successful outcome, other options such as ovum donation, IVF surrogacy, or adoption should be considered.

Although it is the right of any healthy women who has a uterus and is capable of producing even one follicle/egg to have the right to decide on doing IVF using her own eggs, given the very low success rate after 43 years of age (less than 10% per attempt and under 25% within 3 tries) it is my opinion that women over 43 years should be advised to rather do egg donor IVF. Here, regardless of the age of the embryo recipient, the IVF birth rate after a single attempt is about 60% – and better than 80% within three IVF attempts.

Couples who choose to undergo IVF should be encouraged to view the entire procedure with guarded optimism, but nevertheless must be emotionally prepared to deal with the ever‑present possibility of failure. It is important for IVF patients to be made to realize from the outset that an inability to become pregnant should never be considered a reflection on them as individuals.

260 Comments

  • Melissa says:

    Hello Dr. Sher,
    I’ve just turned 37 years old and I seem to have extremely low ovarian reserve (AMH 0.1, FSH 5.7, Estradiol 330, AFC 4-5). We’ve attempted natural IVF 3 times (using a combination of repronex and orgalutran, one of which seems to make me very ill) . Twice the eggs failed to fertilize and the third time I ovulated too early for retrieval. We tried the short IVF protocol next, starting estrogen 10 days before CD1 and using a combination of suprefact, bravelle and menopur. We managed to get 4 eggs, but only 2 were mature and 1 fertilized with ICSI. We transferred one good quality embryo on day 3 after retrieval. HCG was only 7 at the time of the blood test, so obviously that didn’t work out. We have an appointment with the RE next week to discuss our next steps. I suspect he’s going to suggest we try a short IVF protocol again because we managed to get an embryo last time and my eggs are apparently good (how that’s possible when they won’t fertilize without ICSI is incomprehensible to me) but I’m feeling totally discouraged. Is there anything you would suggest in my case? I’m an otherwise healthy person and I’ve always led a healthy lifestyle (no drinking or smoking or drugs). I knew I might have trouble conceiving because of my age (I was 35 when we first started trying) but I never expected the prognosis would be this bleak.

    • Geoffrey Sher says:

      Hi Melissa,

      I would personally not prescribe a short protocol for someone with such DOR. In my opinion you should be looking at an aggressive agonist/antagonist conversion protocol combined with Staggered IVF, embryo banking and CGH embryo selection…That or egg donor IVF.

      Please go to the home page of IVFauthority.com. When you get there look for a “search bar” in the upper right hand column. Then type in the following subjects into the bar, click and this will take you to all the relevant articles I posted there.
      1. “An Individualized Approach to Ovarian stimulation” (posted on November 22nd, 2010)

      2. Ovarian Stimulation for IVF: The most important determinant of IVF Outcome” (Nov. 2103)

      3. “Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol”

      4. “Traveling for IVF from Out of State/Country– The Process at SIRM-Las Vegas” (posted on March, 21st 2012)

      5.“A personalized, stepwise approach to IVF “ (Parts 1 & 2 (posted March, 2012)

      6. “IVF success: Factors that influence outcome”

      7. “Use of the Birth Control Pill in IVF”

      8.”Staggered IVF”

      9.“Embryo Banking”

      10.“Array CGH versus metaphase CGH in IVF patients….’

      11.“Egg Donation”

      Consider calling 800-780-7437 or 702-699-7437 to arrange a Skype with me so we can discuss your case in detail.

      Finally, perhaps you would be interested in accessing my new book (recently released). It is the 4th edition (and a re-write) of “In Vitro Fertilization, the ART of Making Babies”. The book is available through “Amazon.com” as a down-load or in book form. It can also be obtained from most bookstores.

      Geoff Sher

      P.S: Please go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vp3GYuqn2eM&feature=youtu.be
      To view a video-tutorial by Linda Vignapiano RN, Clinical Manager at SIRM-Las Vegas.

  • Traci says:

    Hello Dr. Sher,
    We have been trying to conceive my 3rd baby and DH and my 2nd child together for almost 5 years. We tried 6 IUI ‘ S that all failed. We did 2 fresh IVF cycles and 3 FET cycles. The only positive pregnancy test came from our 2nd to last FET and sadly ended in a chemical pregnancy. What would you advise? My RE suggested one more fresh cycle. She said her goal would be to get better quality eggs next time. I am turning 32 in May and don’t know how to figure out what our chances are. We are diagnosed with unexplained infertility. They can’t find any reason why we aren’t getting pregnant. Thank you for your help!

    • Geoffrey Sher says:

      I really would need to gain access to much more information in order to be helpful here.

      Please go to the home page of IVFauthority.com. When you get there look for a “search bar” in the upper right hand column. Then type in the following subjects into the bar, click and this will take you to all the relevant articles I posted there.
      1. “An Individualized Approach to Ovarian stimulation” (posted on November 22nd, 2010)

      2. Ovarian Stimulation for IVF: The most important determinant of IVF Outcome” (Nov. 2103)

      3. “Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol”

      4. “Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction” (posted on May, 10th and on May 16th respectively.

      5. “Unexplained IVF failure”

      6. “Embryo Implantation………” (Part-1 and Part- 2—-Posted August 2012)

      7. “Traveling for IVF from Out of State/Country– The Process at SIRM-Las Vegas” (posted on March, 21st 2012)

      8.“A personalized, stepwise approach to IVF at SIRM”; Parts 1 & 2 (posted March, 2012)

      9. “IVF success: Factors that influence outcome”

      10. “Use of the Birth Control Pill in IVF”

      Consider calling 800-780-7437 or 702-699-7437 to arrange a Skype with me so we can discuss your case in detail.

      Finally, perhaps you would be interested in accessing my new book (recently released). It is the 4th edition (and a re-write) of “In Vitro Fertilization, the ART of Making Babies”. The book is available through “Amazon.com” as a down-load or in book form. It can also be obtained from most bookstores.

      Geoff Sher

      P.S: Please go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vp3GYuqn2eM&feature=youtu.be
      To view a video-tutorial by Linda Vignapiano RN, Clinical Manager at SIRM-Las Vegas.

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