Case Report: Infertility
Tim H. Tanaka, Ph.D.
This case demonstrates that by addressing the “true cause” of infertility, it is possible to become pregnant naturally even after modern artificial insemination procedures such as IUI have failed several times.
BH, a 35-year-old office secretary, presented to the Pacific Wellness Institute in July, 2001 with the chief complaint of infertility. She had a five-year old son, with no history of other pregnancies. After a couple years of unsuccessful attempts to conceive naturally, she visited a fertility clinic. She had a laparoscopy and abdominal ultrasound, based on which her doctor diagnosed a left ovarian cyst in August, 2000. The cyst was surgically removed soon after the diagnosis. The laparoscopy and ultrasound also ruled out the presence of a fallopian tube obstruction, endometriosis or any other physical problems that might prevent a pregnancy. She was taking an ovarian stimulation drug and had a total of four intrauterine insemination (IUI) procedures without any success.
She expressed her extreme discouragement and feeling of depression after the unsuccessful IUIs. Although our treatment was highly recommended to her by one of my patients, the only reason she decided to try acupuncture was, as she described, out of desperation.
Upon examination, I detected rapid and tense radial pulse, cold hands and feet, and her skin was rough and extremely dry. Her skin temperature on lower abdomen was noticeably colder compared to upper part of abdomen. All of these physical characteristics result from autonomic imbalance (chronic state of sympathetic dominance) and can be observed among many infertility patients.
The acupuncture treatment was designed to help rebalance the autonomic nervous system and minimize the harmful effects of a prolonged stress response. The treatment was aimed to increase the circulation to the lower abdomen and the structures within. BH was asked to measure her daily basal body temperature and instructed to test her thyroid function in order to rule out the possibility of endocrine/thyroid dysfunction.
After receiving weekly acupuncture sessions for approximately 3 months, on October 06, 2001, BH’s pregnancy test became positive, and was subsequently confirmed through an abdominal ultrasound on Oct. 17, 2001 by her obstetrician. BH continued receiving monthly acupuncture treatments throughout the pregnancy period and finally delivered a healthy and normal baby girl without any pregnancy or delivery complications.
When BH came to see me the first time, she was in severe emotional distress due to the frustration and discouragement from the previous IUI failures. She was already under a lot of stress as a mother with a full-time job, which in my opinion contributed to her infertility and subsequent resultant failure to conceive creating further stress, which resulted in further loss of fertility. The cycle goes both ways: stress affects infertility and infertility affects stress.
The key to successful treatment is to break this cycle commonly seen among infertility patients. Nerve fibers connect the brain directly to both the fallopian tubes and the uterus through the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The prolonged stress leads to imbalance in the ANS which can alter the proper release of hormones that regulate the maturation and release of an egg. The ANS influences the ovary’s ability to produce healthy eggs and hormones. Furthermore, when a woman is under stress and the ANS becomes out of balance, spasms can occur in both the fallopian tubes and the uterus, which can interfere with movement and implantation of a fertilized egg. ANS imbalance may be one of the major reasons why less than one third of patients using assisted reproductive technologies such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or gamete intra-fallopian transfer (GIFT) become pregnant.
Our treatment approach uses acupuncture and localized heat application on carefully selected points targeted to enhance uterine blood flow. In addition, a specific acupuncture technique aimed to decrease excessive sympathetic activation and enhance the parasympathetic system is utilized to correct imbalance in the autonomic nervous system (Tanaka, et al., 1997). Since it is almost impossible to avoid stress in this day and age, we should rather focus on how to recover quickly from the stress in order to avoid the harmful consequences of prolonged stress. Heart rate variability biofeedback technique is often combined with acupuncture to enhance patients’ self regulation skills for this purpose (Tanaka, T.H., 2003).
Tanaka, T.H. The Creation and Efficacy of a HRV-Autonomic Trainer CD in Assisting Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback Training: Preliminary Report. Paper presented at 34th Annual Meeting of Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Jacksonville, Florida March 27-30, 2003
FAQ about Infertility & Acupuncture [Click here].
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Research in Acupuncture, Infertility and IVF. [Click here].