Acupuncture for Infertility

Infertility is defined as the inability to become pregnant after one year of unprotected intercourse. There are two types of infertility: primary infertility, which is infertility without any previous pregnancy, and secondary infertility, referring to cases in which there has been a previous pregnancy.

Common Causes of Infertility:

  • Ovulation issues
  • Tubal issues
  • Sperm (amorphic, low count)
  • Idiopathic infertility
  • Age-related factors

Some less common causes include uterine problems, endometriosis, previous tubal ligation, previous vasectomy and drugs.

Preventing Female Infertility

As a general guideline, the following steps can be taken to prevent some cases of female infertility:

  • Avoid strenuous exercise
  • Avoid smoking
  • Manage diseases such as diabetes and hypothyroidism
  • Follow proper weight management guidelines
  • Seek early and proper treatment of sexually transmitted diseases
  • Get regular check-ups from your physician
  • Lower caffeine and alcohol intake
  • Manage stress

Diagnosing Infertility

Diagnosis of infertility begins with a complete medical history and physical exam. The healthcare provider may order tests, including the following:

  • Endometrial biopsy (tests the uterine lining)
  • Hormone testing
  • Laparoscopy (physically viewing the uterus)
  • Ovulation testing (detects the release of eggs from the ovaries)
  • Pap smear (checks for infections like HPV)
  • Pelvic exam (checks for abnormalities or infection)
  • A postcoital test, performed between two and eight hours after intercourse to determine whether sperm can survive in the cervical mucus

Western (Allopathic) Treatment of Infertility

Treatment of infertility will depend on the cause. In western medicine, treatment for female infertility may include:

  • Surgery to treat certain problems (e.g., endometriosis)
  • Antibiotics for sexually transmitted diseases
  • Medications to cause ovulation, such as clomiphene and menotropins
  • Artificial insemination (placing sperm directly into the cervix or uterus)
  • Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (placing individual sperm cells directly inside the woman's eggs)
  • In vitro fertilization (fertilizing the egg outside the womb and then returning it to the uterus)

The following are some side effects of western medical treatments used to illicit ovulation:

  • Abdominal pressure or fullness
  • Cysts on the ovaries
  • Headaches, hot flashes, mood changes
  • Multiple pregnancies, such as twins, triplets or more
  • Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which causes fluid shifts in the body
  • Allergic reactions to antibiotics, including stomach upset and rash
  • Surgery carries a risk of bleeding and infection, as well as allergic reaction to anesthesia and other rare but serious complications

Natural Approaches to Treating Infertility

Depending on the cause of infertility, natural approaches can be very useful and should be tried before proceeding to drastic medical intervention, especially if you are in your twenties. Natural approaches to promote fertility include:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising in moderation
  • Learning about the best time to conceive
  • Eliminating caffeine and alcohol intake
  • Effecting lifestyle changes, such as smoking cessation
  • Receiving a series of acupuncture treatments

The Treatment of Infertility
in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Functional related infertility is often stress-related, and is most common among women who work or live in stressful environments. In Chinese medicine, acupuncture is used to decrease stress in the body by regulating the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. The treatment also addresses possible hormonal imbalances and circulatory problems.

If you choose to undergo IVF, be assured that recent studies have concluded that acupuncture performed immediately before and after IVF significantly increases the chances for a viable pregnancy (ongoing studies confirm these findings.) Acupuncture reduces uterine contractions, which may contribute to the failure of IVF treatments, before, during and after IVF. Acupuncture can also increase blood flow to the uterus, which creates a very favorable environment for pregnancy to occur. Minimally, a treatment should be performed 1/2 hour before implantation and 1/2 hour after. In order to achieve maximum benefit, weekly treatments are recommended at least two months prior to the start of IVF.

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