As a fertility acupuncturist, a high proportion of my patients will present with ‘unexplained infertility’. If it has a name we can fix it, right? Well, perhaps.
Forgive me for splitting hairs but surely unexplained infertility is a non-diagnosis? What if your dentist described your toothache as ‘unexplained facial pain’? Subfertility can in some ways feel just as painful.
When a couple who have been struggling to conceive visit their GP, the doctor will request a range of standard tests to check, for example fallopian tube integrity, verify hormone levels and measure sperm quality. If no specific cause or identifiable medical condition can be identified as the root problem a diagnosis of unexplained infertility will be given. According to some sources 25% of infertility problems may be unexplained.
The next step would be to recommend treatments such as IUI or IVF. The latter, though sometimes funded by the NHS, will often be paid for by the patients. Over time, the more unexplained infertility patients I began to see, the more I began to wonder if there was something missing.
On their first visit to me, I will typically spend 90 minutes discussing a couple’s situation with them. As an acupuncturist I am trained to ask detailed questions in order to build a detailed picture. Areas I cover may range from stress, emotional health and reproductive health, to nutrition and health/general fitness. Although I do not profess to be expert in all these fields, I will recommend additional expertise where the need is obvious (for example in nutrition).
In practice, couples may have a single issue but more often a number of lesser issues present. In the latter case I am reminded of the ‘marginal gains’ approach which the Team GB cycling squad used to great medal winning advantage in the 2012 Olympic games. The principle revolves around the fact that small improvements added together make something bigger.
Common findings include:-
- A cold lower abdomen (resulting in reduced circulation to ovaries and uterus)
- Digestive problems that could affect egg quality
- Extreme fatigue
- Inability to sustain progesterone levels during the luteal phase
- Constitutional night sweats and overheating which might lead to poor follicle maturation
I have discovered that many of these factors can be elicited from a full and detailed case history and from careful analysis of basal body temperature charting (I wrote about this in an earlier blog). This process can uncover further issues such as luteal phase defect and zig-zag temperatures. From this information the unexplained often becomes a little better explained, thus opening additional options.
Let me be clear – I am in no way criticizing the excellent work of fertility doctors and embryologists. The ability of clinics to manipulate and encourage the processes of life is quite frankly a modern marvel. I am arguing instead for a more holistic approach that allows room for the human dimension. Pioneering clinics such as The Zita West Clinic make the case that the holistic approach really does work and that having a baby is a whole-body experience.
I wish to stress that I do not have all the answers,
but unexplained infertility means
we have lots more to discover,
so let’s all work together to plug the gap
in our understanding
Martin Dean is available for consultations by telephoning 07 969 413158.