Acupuncture to relieve side effects of IVF treatment

During an IVF cycle fertility drugs are prescribed to stimulate the growth and development of eggs in the ovaries and then to induce ovulation to release a woman’s eggs for collection for IVF (in vitro fertilization).

Acupuncture can be used throughout an IVF cycle to help minimise and/or eliminate the side effects of the different stages of treatment in an IVF cycle. Acupuncture involves stimulating specific points on the body with small, thin needles that penetrate the skin.

During ovarian stimulation and ovulation induction acupuncture has been used effectively to treat the common side effects caused by the rapid changes in hormone levels. These include hot flushes, night sweats, dizziness, headaches, tiredness, abdominal tenderness and swelling, breast tenderness, mood swings, nausea and dizziness. IVF drug stimulation protocols are highly individualized. They can vary significantly between women, fertility specialists and can vary from cycle to cycle. The extent of side effects experienced will also vary between women, and often from one cycle to another cycle.

Acupuncture is recommended after egg collection to help recovery from anesthetic, local tissue trauma, and the prevention of OHSS. The timing and number of acupuncture treatments will vary between women and their individual circumstances to best aid their recovery in readiness for embryo transfer.

Egg collection is the next step after ovarian stimulation and ovulation induction. It is an IVF surgical procedure and can cause bloating, tenderness from enlarged ovaries and general discomfort following the procedure. It’s normal to have abdominal cramping and bloating for up to a week after egg collection. The severity of symptoms can vary greatly between women. It can take a couple weeks for your ovaries to return to normal size. Pain should generally subside within 48 hours. Bloating can continue for a week or so. The WHO recognizes that acupuncture can help ease the stress on the body caused by surgery and anesthetic by helping with pain, nausea/vomiting, urinary retention, decreased gut motility and anxiety. Research has shown that stimulation of points that innervate the vagus nerve activates mechanisms in the body that reduce inflammation. The use of electro-acupuncture has also shown to be effective at reducing inflammation by activating cytokines, the molecules that help reduce inflammation.

There is a small risk of hyper-stimulation (OHSS), which generally happens when a large number of follicles are emptied at egg collection and fill up with water (cysts). Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, breathlessness, excessive abdominal pain and swelling above the belly button. If you start to experience any of the symptoms of OHSS you should contact your nurse immediately. If OHSS is identified at the very early onset acupuncture can be used successfully to treat mild to moderate cases to relieve discomfort to prevent it developing into more serious symptoms. In severe cases acupuncture can be used with western medical treatment.

Sharmaine Nicholson – Bump Acupuncturist

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