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Elevated basal FSH reflects a quantitative decline of ovarian reserve

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Wednesday, March 14, 2007 | 0 comments

BACKGROUND: Many cycling women with elevated basal FSH level have been discouraged from undergoing IVF treatment. This is because elevated basal FSH is associated with poorer assisted reproduction treatment outcome. It has been argued that high FSH reflects not only reduced ovarian reserve but also poor oocyte quality. The aim of this study is to assess the value of treating cycling women who have elevated basal FSH and to assess the reasons for the reduction in both pregnancy rate (PR) and live birth rate (LBR).

METHODS: Between January 1997 and December 2001, 2057 patients underwent 3401 consecutive IVF/ICSI cycles in which the basal level of FSH (days 2–4) was determined at an earlier cycle. Analysis, however, was only performed for a single cycle per patient. All cases were divided into four cohorts according to FSH levels: group A, FSH <10>20 IU/ml. Each group was stratified further into subgroups according to age, ≤38 and >38 years.

RESULTS: Both PR (A, 32.3%; B, 19.8%; C, 17.5%; and D, 3%) and LBR (A, 24.7%; B, 13.2%; C, 13.8%; and D, 3%) were significantly reduced in the higher FSH level groups. LBR was significantly higher in the younger subgroups (A, 32.2%; B, 21.8%; C, 20%; and D, 16.7%) as compared with the older subgroups (A, 12.1%; B, 8.3%; C, 10.5%; and D, 0%). Higher levels of FSH were significantly associated with more cycle cancellation, a larger amount of gonadotrophin required to achieve follicular maturity, and a lower number of eggs collected, embryos available and embryos transferred. In all cases, however, there was no significant correlation between FSH levels and fertilization rate or miscarriage rate. Younger cycling women with elevated FSH had significantly higher LBR compared with older women with normal FSH (21.2% versus 12.1%). Furthermore, the cumulative LBR after three cycles in these younger patients with elevated FSH levels was 49.3%.

CONCLUSION: Although there is a reduction in both PR and LBR associated with higher levels of basal FSH, it is clear that in cycling women, high basal FSH is not a contraindication to IVF treatment, and a respectable PR and LBR can be achieved especially in young women. The reduction in PR and LBR is due to reduced reserve rather than poor oocyte quality. Clinics refusing to treat cycling women with elevated basal FSH levels may be denying these women a reasonable, albeit low, chance of achieving a birth with their own genetic material. Clinicians should use basal FSH levels as a guide to advise patients about their chances of achieving a live birth, not to exclude patients with a predicted lower success rate from a treatment programme.


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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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