Could scientists have found a cure for PCOS?

It’s incredibly common, but little has been known about what causes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Now scientists in France think they may have found the solution. They believe PCOS may be triggered by exposure to high levels of Anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) in the womb which may overstimulate brain cells and raise the level of testosterone in the body.

Experimenting on mice, the researchers were able to reverse the effect of the AMH by using a drug which can be used to control hormones and they are now planning to trial this in women. If it works, it could be a solution to restore ovulation in women with POCS.

PCOS is a very common condition, and women who experience it have a number of symptoms often may include irregular periods, excess body hair, weight gain, oily skin and cysts on the ovaries. Many, but not all, experience difficulties trying to conceive and PCOS is often a cause of fertility problems. You can read more about the new research in New Scientist here.

Why exercise is good for you

A new study suggests that “vigorous” exercise may be linked to an improved chance of getting pregnant, but that more gentle exercise doesn’t seem to make the same difference. So, what counts as “vigorous”? Apparently that’s exercise like jogging, running, football or aerobics which leaves you out of breath, and you have to do more than four hours a week!

You can read more about it on the NHS Choices website – and the results are interesting. If you are obese, the vigorous exercise thing doesn’t work, but instead more moderate exercise such as walking does. As NHS Choices points out, assessing how likely it is that these results are actually widely applicable and correct can be difficult as the results were slightly odd. It isn’t clear why exercise only counts if you do more than four hours a week, or why walking makes a difference to obese or overweight women but not to any others. It is also not clear what they women ate, or whether their weight changed during the study as these factors could make a difference – as could any existing fertility problems so it may be that one of these other factors was in fact responsible.

It does, however, add to the growing body of evidence that keeping active is a good thing!

Thank you Fertility Fest!

I have spent the past few days at Fertility Fest at the Bush Theatre in London, and wanted to thank Jessica Hepburn and Gabby Vautier for organising such a wonderful and inspiring event. It was a unique opportunity for people affected by fertility problems and treatment, for those working in the fertility sector, for those who have families not created in the traditional way, for academics and for the general public to come together and to learn and be inspired. It was absolutely fabulous!

I met amazing artists and so many inspiring and interesting people doing all kinds of different work to help and support others in different ways. It was a real honour to be involved. A special thank you to the lovely Saskia Boujo and everyone I shared a panel with – artist Gina Glover, Dr Kay Elder, Sally Cheshire, Dr Roy FarquharsonMaria Da Luz Ghoumrassi, Dr Shantel Ehrenberg, Barbara Scott, Jane Denton, Anna Furse, Nina Klaff, Drunken Sailor Theatre Company, Victoria Macdonald, Foz Foster, Tabitha Moses, Professor Lesley Regan, Professor Simon Fishel, Yvonne John, Sue Macmillan, Carmel Dennehy, Tracey Sainsbury, Fiona Duffelen – to Paula Knight who was unable to be with us but sent a video – and of course, to those wonderful women Jessica and Gabby who have created something really very special!

If you’ve had successful IVF treatment…

If you are based in or near London, you may be interested to know about a very special parents and babies group taking place on Wednesday lunchtime at the Bush Theatre as part of the amazing Fertility Fest. The Life and Lunch meeting is just for IVF parents and babies and is an opportunity to discuss candidly and confidentially, how it feels to become a parent after you’ve struggled to conceive. It is being facilitated by Saskia Boujo, Founder of My Beehive and creator of the ‘IVF and Proud’ merchandise brand; Helen Daviesauthor of More Love To Give about her story of secondary infertility; and Gabby Vautier, Co-Director of Fertility Fest and mum of IVF toddler twins.

I will also be there with five free copies of my book “Precious Babies – Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting after Infertility” to give away! Come and join us – it promises to be a fabulous session.

Thinking of having treatment overseas?

If you are considering going abroad for fertility treatment, you may be interested in this article I wrote for a supplement for The Times earlier this week.

For many people, going overseas can be a cheaper option, and many return with positive stories about their experiences, but you do need to be aware of the facts and understand the differences you may find if you choose to have treatment outside the UK.

There are some great clinics across the globe, but there are also some that are not quite so great and you don’t have the protection that you have here in the UK of knowing that all  clinics offering IVF are licensed and regularly inspected by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. As you don’t have that luxury with clinics elsewhere, you do need to make sure you do your homework and research as much as you can about the clinic and the country to ensure that you are left feeling that you did the right thing in choosing to travel for treatment.

Just relax…

For anyone with any experience at all of fertility problems, there’s a general understanding that probably the worst thing someone can say to you is “just relax…”, and yet this is the advice a TV doctor gave on ITV’s Lorraine programme. Dr Hilary Jones apparently said to a caller who was asking for advice after three unsuccessful rounds of IVF;  “What I would say is, and this is probably the hardest thing to do, is just relax about it. There have been so many people that I’ve known who’ve gone through several rounds of IVF and nothing happens. And when they’ve given up, and gotten on with their lives, it miraculously happens naturally… Sometimes stress itself can have a very negative effect. So try living your life as normally as you can.”

I suppose this just shows why you should stick to asking fertility specialists for advice rather than a TV doctor, but there has been an understandable backlash from fertility patients and the charity Fertility Network UK. There is certainly a lesson to be learned for TV producers about the risks of getting a GP, who is by nature a generalist rather than a specialist, to offer advice to those who have already been treated by experts in any field of medicine. But should any doctor, even if they are a GP rather than a specialist, be telling people to “just relax” or suggesting that stress might be to blame for infertility? Apart from anything else, we all know that fertility problems cause huge amounts of stress – and that telling someone who is trying to conceive to “just relax” is about as helpful as telling them to get a dog, go on holiday or any of the other helpful advice that non-experts in the field like to pass on.

There is another problem here though, and that’s to do with blame. Suggesting that your stress levels might be responsible for your blocked fallopian tubes or endometriosis is nonsense, and yet many people do end up feeling that it’s their fault they can’t conceive in a culture which encourages you to believe that you can make the difference to outcomes by thinking positive, clean eating or complementary therapies. The truth is that none of these things are going to unblock your tubes or get rid of endometriosis, and for a medical professional to suggest that getting pregnant might miraculously happen naturally if you just relax is quite bizarre.

Even the response has been interesting, with Woman & Home covering the issue with a headline “Lorraine’s Dr Hilary faces backlash following ‘insensitive’ comments during IVF discussion’. They were not ‘insensitive’ comments but insensitive comments – and that’s the understanding that we still need to change!

One or two embryos…

One discussion theme which comes up now and again on fertility websites and forums is whether to put back one embryo or two when you are having IVF, and there are always people advising others to “go for two” because it will double the chances of getting pregnant if you “don’t mind” having twins. For anyone who is struggling to conceive, the idea of twins can seem hugely attractive – an instant family in one go – but it’s important to be clear that multiple pregnancy is the biggest risk from IVF treatment for you and for your baby.

The best advice to anyone who is thinking about this as a dilemma is that you should be guided by the embryologists at your clinic, assuming you are having treatment here in the UK where your health and that of your babies is always put first when it comes to numbers of embryos to transfer. Most women should have one embryo put back, and two are only considered if you have had repeated unsuccessful attempts at IVF in the past, if you are older or if your embryos look less likely to implant. Putting two embryos back will not double your chances of getting pregnant. In fact, when  single embryo transfer is based on your embryologist’s advice, it should not reduce your chances of getting pregnant and if you would have got pregnant with twins, you will still get pregnant with one embryo. A multiple pregnancy is more likely to end in miscarriage but this is not always considered when people are making decisions about how many embryos to transfer.

Although we all know lots of twins who are flourishing and healthy, we don’t hear so much about those who aren’t. The increased risk of miscarriage, and of problems for the babies who are more likely to be born prematurely and may have disabilities or long term problems is very real. There are also risks for the mother such as high blood pressure and pre eclampsia and haemorrhage. You can read more about this here on the HFEA website.

This is why the best fertility clinics – those who really have your interests at heart – have a good success rate and a low multiple pregnancy rate.

Could you fill in a survey to help with research?

Could you spare a few moments to help with a research project? I’ve just been asked to circulate details to people with experience of fertility problems about an important research project which is trying to establish core outcomes for clinical trials. If all trials into fertility reported on the same outcomes, it would be possible to combine studies to get really meaningful data to help fertility patients in the future. The research team would like your views as they want to involve lay people with lived experience in helping to shape what the main outcomes should be.

You can read more about the project here and if you decide you would like to take part by answering their questionnaires, you can do that here, apparently it should take no more than 15 minutes to complete. Thanks!

 

Can you be happy if IVF doesn’t work?

It’s one of those things people don’t even want to think about when they’re going through fertility treatment – what might happen if it didn’t work, ever? Could you really be happy if you didn’t end up with a baby? What would you do if all that time, effort, money and emotional investment led to nothing? Would your life ever feel fulfilled and enjoyable? Could the overwhelming sadness go away? I want to tell you about someone who is a brilliant example of the fact that life after IVF treatment can be both fulfilled and enjoyable. She’s called Lesley Pyne, and I first met her when I was a trustee for the charity which is now Fertility Network UK. Lesley was one of my fellow trustees, and had joined as she was involved with the section of the charity for people who were involuntarily childless known at the time as More to Life.

Today, I met Lesley for the first time for a while and it struck me that she looked about 10 years younger than she did when I last first knew her – which means she must look about 20 years younger than she really is! Her eyes were bright and shining, and her zest for life was almost palpable. Lesley, who always seemed to be making an effort not to stand out when we were fellow trustees, was dressed in bright colours with electric blue nails.  She is happy, she is making the most of the good things in her life – and she has just written a book explaining how she went from feeling devastated by unsuccessful treatment to this confident, happy woman who gets the best out of her life – it’s due to be published in June and is called Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness.

It strikes me as we talk that Lesley has embraced something we could all learn from – living for the moment, focusing on the positives and making an effort to enjoy what we have. I haven’t read Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness yet – but she explained that it contains her story and those of a number of other women who have come out the other side of involuntary childlessness to find fulfilment. She says it is a journey,  and it can be hard along the way, but that there is life beyond childlessness, there is more to life – and if you need help along that path, keep an eye out for Lesley’s book when it comes out in June.

New fertility group for South East London

I’m going to be running a new fertility group for Fertility Network in Greenwich in South East London which you are welcome to join! We are having our first meeting on the evening of Tuesday March 27. It will be great to see you if you are able to come along!

I first went to a group when I was going through IVF myself and found it hugely helpful to meet other people who understood how we felt. I was a bit uncertain about going along – I didn’t think I was the sort of person who went to group meetings – but in fact it wasn’t gloomy or depressing or any of the other things I’d expected. If anything, it was actually quite uplifting to be in a room full of people who weren’t going to stat asking questions about when we were going to have a baby and why we were leaving it so late…

I’ve run a number of different fertility groups over the years since then and have seen at first hand the benefits they can bring. So why not come along and join us and find out for yourselves…

You can join our brand new Facebook page to find out more or you can get in touch via the contact page here – and hope to see you on the 27th.

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