Recurrent Pregnancy Loss

As seen in the previous blog post, infertility can lead to unwanted stress and/or depression in an already fragile situation. Recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL) only adds more questions and concerns for couples battling infertility and trying to give birth to a healthy baby. It is important to note that approximately five percent of the population have had two consecutive pregnancy losses. While this is certainly an upsetting situation, in no way does it mean that these couples will never achieve a pregnancy that will result in a healthy birth. There are multiple etiologies of RPL and the typical textbook breakdown is as follows: Infectious (0.5-5%), Genetic (2-5%), Anatomic (10-15%), Endocrine (17-20%), Autoimmune (20%), and Unexplained (40-50%). In the following paragraphs, we will explore these various reasons known to cause RPL and the potential for therapy of each.
Infectious: The role that infections play in RPL is speculative. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Practice Bulletin on RPL states that infections are known to cause sporadic pregnancy loss but no infectious agent has been proven to cause recurrent loss. The reason this etiology is speculative is because in order for an infectious agent to be implicated in RPL, it must persist in the genital tract with few, if any, symptoms. Nevertheless, the infectious agents thought to play a role include Toxoplasmosis, Rubella, Cytomegalovirus, Herpes Simplex Virus, and Listeria. The proposed mechanism of action is either by direct infection of the womb and/or embryo or placental problems. Bacterial vaginosis has also been implicated but there are inconsistent reports. It has been suggested by some that perhaps the most prudent approach would be treatment of an infection early in pregnancy if the patient has a history of preterm birth. The bottom line is that population screening for these is not recommended.
Genetic: Normal human development is directed by our genetic make-up. If there is too much or too little genetic information, problems with development occur. When an egg and sperm meet at fertilization, they each bring the respective genetic make-up from the parents-to-be. One can imagine that if there is an imbalance of genetic information, either too much or too little, from one or the other (egg or sperm), the future of that embryo can be compromised. This can occur when either member of the couple has a rearrangement of their genetic code, called a chromosomal translocation. This can be detected by a blood test called a karyotype that looks at the number and structure of a person’s chromosomes. While there is no “fix” for this, in vitro fertilization (IVF) with preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) can offer couples the ability to have embryos that don’t have the genetic translocation be transferred into the uterus in hopes that a successful pregnancy will result in a healthy birth.
Other genetic reasons can include blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia, or other inherited conditions. In particular would be those inherited conditions such as Marfan’s Syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome that may disrupt the integrity of the cervix. As with a translocation, there is no “fix” for these conditions but knowing that the patient has them can allow for the obstetrician to better prepare the patient and hopefully the outcome of the pregnancy.
Anatomic: When we talk about anatomic factors that can lead to RPL we are mainly talking about anatomic factors within the uterus. While development of the uterus typically follows the normal path of one cervical opening with one clear uterine cavity (where a baby grows), there are many variations on the theme. Developmental abnormalities can lead to a uterine septum, unicornuate uterus, bicornuate uterus, or a uterine didelphys. (See picture) A uterine septum is the most common of these and, fortunately, is the one that can be corrected with a relatively simple surgical procedure.

Uterine Anomalies Müllerian Anomalies

Other uterine factors that can be involved with RPL, and are able to be corrected, include fibroids, polyps, or intrauterine adhesions (called synechiae, or Asherman’s Syndrome). Pelvic ultrasounds can aid in the diagnosis and therefore management of these factors.
Endocrine: The main disorders that fall under this category are polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), thyroid disease, and diabetes. In PCOS, which occurs in approximately 40% of women with RPL, there is often insulin resistance leading to elevated levels of insulin circulating in the blood (hyperinsulinemia). This hyperinsulinemia can not only lead to problems with embryonic development but also embryo implantation which can then result in a failed pregnancy. Much the same can be said for patients with diabetes where it has been shown that poor diabetic control increases the miscarriage rate in the individual. Thyroid disease, hypothyroidism in particular, can also lead to an increased chance of miscarriage. The bottom line is that if you do have any of these conditions, there are simple blood tests that can help your doctor manage you appropriately and therefore optimize your chances for a successful pregnancy.
Autoimmune: This category mainly has to do with clotting disorders that a person can have through autoimmunity, which, simply put, means your body has made antibodies to certain things that can cause an increase in blood clotting to occur (called an acquired thrombophilia). The main antibodies involved, and therefore tested, are lupus anticoagulant and anticardiolipin antibody. While there are others, collectively they are called Antiphospholipid Antibodies, and they play a role in RPL due to their propensity to increase clotting and affecting a number of factors important in embryo implantation and development. Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome (APA Syndrome) is a known etiology of pregnancy loss, and depending on your history, can be treated accordingly to best optimize the uterine environment for a pregnancy.
Celiac sprue is also an autoimmune disease that has known implications in RPL. It too can be tested with blood tests, and possibly follow-up biopsy, and if found can be treated with a gluten free diet.
Unexplained: It is a given that couples going through RPL want to have answers, and hopefully solutions, to their problem. Unfortunately, however, there will be a number of couples who fall into the “unexplained” category because even though our current technology is excellent, it is not without limits. There are new avenues of exploration that include immunology at the cellular level and possibly manipulating the balance of certain immunological cell types but any such treatment is yet to come.
As a group, my partners and I feel that a large portion of patients that fall into this “unexplained” category may in fact have endometriosis. It has been shown that those women with endometriosis also have fertility issues and that surgical resection can potentially improve fertility outcomes. However, the only definitive way to diagnose endometriosis is with surgery. A detailed menstrual history can help your gynecologist decide if surgery for potential endometriosis is right for you.
There are also inherited genetic disorders that can lead to increased blood clotting (called congenital thrombophilias) which can lead to RPL and these are collectively called the non-APA Syndrome thrombophilias. Include in this group are Factor V Leiden, Prothrombin Gene mutation, Protein C or S deficiency, Antithrombin III deficiency, and MTHFR mutation. There are blood tests to determine if you have these and, based on your history, you can be treated accordingly in hopes of sustaining a healthy pregnancy.
While RPL is undoubtedly a difficult diagnosis to have, it does not mean that there isn’t hope of delivering a healthy baby in the future. The different etiologies listed above are the most commonly seen, but are certainly not an exhaustive list. If you are in this situation it is important to sit down with your gynecologist or reproductive endocrinologist to explore the different possibilities of treatment.

Creighton E. Likes, III, MD


Depression and Infertility

I saw an infertile couple today and the wife was mentioning the symptoms of stress she was having and also wondered if she was depressed.  If she is depressed, she is not alone. Depression is a frequent, unwelcomed guest in the lives of infertile couples. Major depressive disorders (MDD) and associated conditions such as anxiety are common in women with infertility and are often not adequately addressed by the primary care providers.  Depression is not well understood, nor is it known how infertility causes depression, but logically there are complex psycho-dynamics at play that might contribute to the onset and maintenance of MDD (1).

Reasons for depression are many but might be exacerbated in the setting of infertility due to feelings of isolation, both from society, friends, and parents but also isolation from one’s spouse. Normal joyful relationships become strained and the act of love-making can become a repetitive opportunity for failure rather than being part of the normal relationship building that couples share.  Not knowing where to place blame often results in individuals blaming themselves.  Loss of control and feelings of anger also contribute to an emotional disorientation, making it difficult to negotiate the normal social interactions that we all face and deal with on a daily basis.  The anger is often occult and displaced with no place to be appropriately directed. Someone said that depression is anger turned inward, which I believe is true in many cases. If we could get to the bottom of that “anger well” and release those feelings can often improve those feelings of depression. Talk therapy can be quite helpful in the right setting, but this also takes time and trust, since many of the defenses that we establish to maintain our inner emotional equilibrium are there to protect us (prevent us) from delving too deeply into our own pockets of despair.  While these feelings may be irrational, they often have a basis far removed from current events, established by earlier relationships, particularly involving parents and siblings.  Finding time to discuss those feelings with one’s partner is important, especially since he or she may also be experiencing similar feelings of isolation and self-blame. Finding other sources of help is equally important especially when hopelessness becomes a dominant feature of ones daily experience.

Prevalence of depression in the infertile population, reflects the higher rate of depression in women in general during their reproductive years. The risk of developing MDD is higher for women than for men (1). In the infertile couple, men have a reduced role to play both during the diagnostic workup but also the treatment phase of infertility. Men don’t have the dramatic changes in hormones that women experience, made worse by the fertility treatments involving hormone stimulation. Except in certain circumstances, many treatments involving needle injections, dye instillation, surgery, ultrasound and biopsy all fall to the female partner, many involving pain or apprehension. Fear of miscarriage or birth defects can contribute to the anxiety a woman experiences. In unexplained infertility, the physician or nurse may attribute the lack of success to “bad eggs” or “poor uterine environment” casting unintentional blame to the female partner for factors that are completely out of her control. The other side of this coin is whether  emotional problems such as anxiety and depression might in themselves contribute to the reduced fertility. Finances to fund fertility treatments are a major factor in the dynamics that drive emotional dysequilibrium, especially has more 3rd party payers reduce their support for infertility treatments.  It is no wonder why some women feel helpless and hopeless as their situation seems to spiral out of control, without clearly defined endpoints or answers.

The treatment of mood disorders is increasingly being handled by the pharmacist rather than by the psychiatrist or psychologist. Pills are becoming the first line of therapy depression or anxiety. Pharmaceutical agents used to treat depression can complicate the treatment of infertility. The use of antidepressants has been associated with an increase in miscarriage (2). Small studies have suggested a decreased pregnancy rate for IVF in women taking serotonin reuptake inhibitors (3,4).  Some antidepressants can reduce sex drive (libido) further reducing the enjoyment and frequency of sex.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) cautions about low birth weight, lung problems and neonatal irritability in neonates in women taking antidepressants, and some drugs such as Paroxetine have recently been implicated in cardiac anomalies, leading many clinicians to advise against its use in pregnancy.

Group or individual psychotherapy may be the safest and perhaps the best approach to this particular mood disorder, given that it is confined to a specific medical condition or situation and may therefore be amenable to improvement  through increasing self-awareness of the impact of isolation and anger surrounding the state of infertility itself. Group session like the ones we host at GHS as part of the Mind-Body program are one example that not only attempt to reduces stress but allow the establishment of new avenues for communication between partners but also between other individuals or couples sharing similar feelings and problems.

A blog on depression in women would not be complete without some mention of clinical depression and its link to post-partum depression. This complication of pregnancy can be serious and affect not only the mother but the other family members including the child or his or her siblings. Women with a history of post-partum depression or serious depressive symptoms going into pregnancy would be advised to let their obstetrician know about their condition, as SRIs may have a benefit in reducing or eliminating these symptoms after delivery.

Source material included from Catapano The Female Patient, Vol 35, 2010

References cited

  1. Williams et al., Mood disorders and fertility in women: Critical review of the literature and implications for future research. Hum Reprod  Update 13:607-616, 2007.
  2. Hemels et al., Antidepressant use during pregnancy and the rates of spontaneous abortions: A metaanalysis. Ann Pharmacother. 39:803-809, 2005.
  3. Klock et al., A pilot study of the relationship between selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and in vitro fertilization outcome. Fert Stert 82:968-9, 2004
  4. Friedman et al., Effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors on in vitro fertilization outcome. Fert Stert 92:1312-14, 2009.

Lyme Disease and Pregnancy

We had an interesting dilemma this week that got us thinking about Lyme disease and pregnancy.  An infertile patient who is in the midst of an ovulation cycle to conceive tested positive for Lyme disease. The question she had was should she continue the therapy and what if she gets pregnant? Truthfully, this rarely comes up and even our specialty OB doctors did not know immediately what the risks of having Lyme disease would be on a pregnancy. This becomes the subject of today’s blog.

Lyme disease is a bacterial illness that is caused by a spirochete, named Borrelia burgdoferi. Common vectors for transmission of this bacteria are deer ticks that maintain the pathogen in their gut and transmit it to the host  when they attach to the skin. Interestingly, the transmission of disease from person to person does not occur. The symptoms can be vague and non-specific but can be serious and involve joints, heart, and the nervous system, if left untreated. Lyme disease was first discovered in Connecticutt and is endemic to the Northeast, from Maine to Maryland. Here in South Carolina, it is very uncommon unless contracted elsewhere by the affected person.

The stages of infection include an early period localized to inflammation of the skin, a second disseminated phase that can affect the heart and nervous system (including meningitis) and a late phase of disease associated with arthritis, sensory nerve damage and brain inflammation.  The initial redness of the skin can last up to a month and then gradually disappears. Diagnosis can occur during the earliest phases of the disease but often Lyme disease is diagnosed later after the afflicted person gets tested for antibodies against the Spirochette. The test can be wrong and incorrectly indicate that the person has been exposed when in fact they have not (‘false positive”). The best test and a confirmation of Lyme disease requires a Western Blot (a test involving antibodies and gel electrophoresis).  Treatment of Lyme disease involves antibiotics. Doxycycline or tetracycline are effective but cannot be used in pregnancy. Late disease may require IVF antibiotics including penicillin G or Ceftriaxone.

So, should a woman suspected of having Lyme disease get pregnant? Probably not, until the diagnosis is firmly established and treatment initiated. That was my advice anyway. The problem for fertility patients, especially those in a cycle, its very difficult for them to stop trying to get pregnant given their intense need and drive to accomplish this biological imperative. In a pregnant woman, newly diagnosed, avoiding doxycycline would be important, especially since alternative therapies are available. Treatment is also vital since there have been cases reported of the bacterium crossing the placenta and causing fetal death.  The liklihood of this happening is very small, but why take that risk?  Given the difficulty in making a firm diagnosis and the reduced liklihood of getting this disease in South Carolina, it would be important to see a specialist who can make sure this is the actual diagnosis.

For those of us living in the South, Lyme disease is not the only tick-borne disease to worry about. The CDC lists Babesiosis, Southern Tick-associated rash illness (STARI) and Tick-borne relapsing fever. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the most severe disease associated with ticks caused by the organism Rickettsia rickettsii. So, all those outdoors people beware and take notice of tick bites as they can have some nasty consequences.


What to do until the doctor arrives

Infertility is a highly personal problem that affects 1 in 5 couples. Many people who are confronted with this problem start with high hopes that they will be able to start a family just like everyone else.  There may be a certain amount of denial and also misconceptions about what constitutes a problem with fertility. To be sure there is a blame game that occurs, either on the surface or below, that may get in the way of relationships or communication. Couples may also find that the very act of trying to conceive becomes stressful rather than enjoyable and some partners may withdrawal or even avoid sex to stop having to confront the problem that they just never thought they’d have to deal with in the first place.

First of all, infertility is common and in most cases not absolute. A decreased chance of conceiving is different that no chance (sterilitiy) and for most couples time will heal all wounds. We don’t usually see couples for infertility problems until they have tried for a year or more. There are times when waiting would be inappropriate, including older couples or couples that have clearly identifiable problems that preclude achieving a pregnancy. Examples would include women approaching the late 30s who wish to start a family or men with ejaculatory problems or women who don’t ovulate. In most cases, however, everything seems fine but that pregnancy test just never turns positive.

So, first let’s list the causes of infertility in general terms and see what can be done without making an appointment with your doctor:

1) Male factor – low sperm number, motility or morphology (the way the sperm look under the microscope)

      Men with a history of mumps, undescended testes, testicular injury or lack of a sex drive or erection should probably go ahead and see their doctor who can order a semen analysis (SA). For most men, there are tests that they can use at home that will reassure them that they have sperm (CheckMate is an example). If a man has fathered a child in another relationship that would be presumptive evidence that he is OK.  In up to 40% of cases it is the man who has the primary defect leading to infertility. We would add that most of the work up for couples is conducted on the female partner and since these tests are often more invasive, we like to do the SA first. It doesn’t hurt, guys, honest.

2) Cervical issues – problems with the lower portion of the uterus that is at the top of the vagina can cause infertility

Women with human papilloma virus (HPV) exposure are increasingly being offered “cryotherapy” or “leep” procedures to remove the infected portion of the cervix that shows up as an abnormal pap smear. One thing we tell women, especially young women, is that the virus will often be cleared by your immune system.  If the doctor finds an abnormal pap smear, he or she will often recommend a closer look at the cervix (colposcopy) and possibly a biopsy. Ask if they can screen for the high risk HPV while they are there. This might help you avoid surgical trauma to the cervix. The removal or freezing of cervical tissue may be important to fight cervical cancer but it reduces cervical mucous, interferes with fertility and may even lead to preterm birth or endometriosis. Advice is cheap but here there is some merit in being informed about your condition before having anything done to your cervix.  The vaccine against HPV is available and many women are taking that to avoid HPV infections. Women that are just staring out might also remember that HPV can be avoided by using condoms and just one unprotected sexual encounter with an infected individual may be enough to have transfer of those viral strains.

With regard to the cervix, a discharge usually is normal at the time of ovulation and is usually clear and stringy. It is the cervical mucous that helps guide sperm into the cervix and uterus. This may be something a couple can monitor to know when to time intercourse. The mucous usually dries up after ovulation. Cervical mucous throughout the menstrual cycle can indicate a lack of ovulation. Finally abnormal discharge with an odor or other symptoms can indicate cervicitis or vaginitis that can interfere with getting pregnant. That may require antibiotic or anti-fungal therapy to treat.

3) Timing of intercourse is important.

The time of maximal fertility is usually mid-cycle (day 14 of a 28 day menstrual cycle). If a woman’s cycles are longer, then count back 14 days from the average length of the menstrual cycle and that’s when she is likely to be ovulating. Cycles that vary greatly or menstrual cycles with heavy or unpredictable blood loss is another indication of no ovulation (anovulation or PCOS).  After the egg is released the cervical mucous gets much thicker and the sperm can no longer travel through the cervix into the uterus. Intercourse after ovualtion is not useful for conception purposes.  Spotting before the period starts is an indication of problems with hormone levels or response to hormones. The first person to mention this was Ann Wentz in 1980 who made the connection between premenstrual spotting and endometriosis. That is a good indicator of endometriosis in my opinion.

4) Fallopian tubes – Women require at least one open fallopian tube in order to conceive. Those with a history of gonorrhea or chlamydia or other sexually transmitted diseases are at increased risk for tubal blockage. The test for tubal patency is a hysterosalpinginogram done by a doctor under an X-RAY source. Ultrasound can sometimes detected blocked tubes and they are often found at the time of surgery (laparoscopy).  Couples with a history of STDs might want to check the tubes earlier in the process than couples without that history. Interestingly, one blocked fallopian tube is almost as bad as 2 blocked tubes. We found that if the bad tube was surgically removed, almost 85% of women conceived, without the need for other infertility procedures (Sagoskin et al., 2003 Hum Reprod 18:2634-7).

5) Endometriosis – We written about endometriosis on this blog before. Up to 40% of infertility is due to endometriosis. 30 to 50% of women with endometriosis are infertile. The signs are protean but center around pain, bladder or bowel symptoms or just infertility or pregnancy loss. For the couple trying to improve their chances at pregnancy, there are things you can do including attention to diet, excercise and the use of preventative measures prior to trying to conceive. For example, we see women with painful periods that get much better on oral contraceptive pills (OCPs). If a woman has a history of painful periods as an adolescent, the use of OCPs might improve the chances at conception later.  Unfortunately, endometriosis is often suppressed but is still there, so it can get worse over time if pregnancy does not occur quickly off the pill. The Endometriosis Association in Waukesha WI has alot of information about endometriosis and I encourage you to read their source book.

Finally, what can the average couple do to improve the time to conception? Here are some hints:

1) Reduce stress when possible

2) Maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid becoming overweight

3) Men – avoid hot tubes, saunas and keep the lap top off your lap

4) Monitor your menstrual cycles for regularity, timing of ovulation (LH kits) and symptoms of endometriosis around the time of menses

5) Time intercourse every other day around the middle of the month

6) Seek help if you need to by someone with experience in treating infertility

7) Don’t wait too long to start trying to get pregnant. Women approaching 40 years of age may have a much harder time conceiving than women 35 and younger. You may feel young but your ovaries have a limited supply of eggs that begins to decline in the mid-thirties.

8) Read books on fertility – many good books are out there.

Getting pregnant should be a fun and rewarding time. Good luck but come to see us if you get frustrated.


Cystic Fibrosis Testing

Cystic fibrosis testing for couples contemplating pregnancy – what are the issues

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is the most common autosomal recessive genetic disorder in Caucasian populations.  CF is a disease that affects the lungs and intestines of those who carry it.  Not everyone has the same severity of symptoms.  Affected individuals may have significant health issues, and shortened life expectancies.

CF affects approximately 1/3300 Caucasians, 1/8000 Hispanics, and 1/15000 Blacks.

CF is inherited when an asymptomatic genetic carrier adult passes on the gene to an offspring who also gets a CF mutated gene from the other parent.  Each carrier parent will pass the gene onto 50% of their children.  When a child has two copies (one from mom, one from dad) then they are no longer a carrier, but have the disease.  Testing for CF carrier status is done by drawing a tube of tube of blood.

The disease causes high levels of chloride in the sweat and thick mucus in the lungs and pancreas which causes most of the symptoms of the disease.  Diagnosis is made during the first year of life in most cases.  Men who have cystic fibrosis are usually infertile due to an absence of the vas Deferens which connects the testicles to the penis and serves as the conduit for sperm.

Most patients with CF die from complications of their pulmonary (lung disease).  Medical therapy has increased the average life expectancy to the 30’s.

IN 1989 the gene for CF and the most common gene that causes CF were discovered (Delta F508).  In 1997 the National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference on Genetic Testing for CF recommended that CF screening should be offered to adults with a family history of CF, to partners of people with CF, to couples planning a pregnancy, and to pregnant couples seeking prenatal care.

In 2001 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American College of Medical Genetics (ACMG) convened a committee to ensure that information about genetic screening for CF was disseminated to health care providers and patients in a useful and meaningful way.  They also refined the recommendations of the NIH as follows:

The following groups should be offered CF screening:

  • Individuals with a family history of CF
  • Partners of individuals with CF
  • Couples in which one or both partners are Caucasian and are planning a pregnancy or seeking prenatal care.
  • Screening can be offered to individuals from other ethnicities, although the results will be less sensitive.

Ideally, couples would be screened before a pregnancy occurs to allow for reproductive options to be considered.  While no test is perfect, detection rates are very high amongst highest risk populations.

Estimated Carrier Risk
Ethnic Group Detection Rate Before Test After Negative Test
Ashkenazi Jews 97% 1/29 Approx. 1/930
Caucasian 80% 1/29 Approx. 1/140
Hispanic 57% 1/46 Approx. 1/105
African American 69% 1/65 Approx. 1/207

This means that 1/29 Caucasians are carriers of the cystic fibrosis gene.

Typically, screening is done in sequence.  The partner who is a greatest risk of being a carrier is screened first, and only if the result is positive is the other partner tested.

Treatment choices are better and more options exist if testing is done before pregnancy.  If one parent is a carrier and the other is not, then couples can attempt pregnancy normally.  If both partners are positive for the CF mutation, options include contraception, donor gametes (sperm or eggs) from a non-carrier, or in vitro fertilization with Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) to identify embryos that are affected with the disease and selection of only healthy embryos for transfer into the uterus.

So what got me interested in CF screening?  Two events came together in short order that caught my attention. First, when I was in high school I knew three brothers who all had CF.  All three had died by the time I was in my 40s, from complications of their disease.  Second, my son Jake was sick when he was only 2 years of age. He was not growing at the appropriate rate, and one of the concerns was that he might have CF.  My family was lucky, his CF test came back negative and we found he had a severe allergy to milk that caused his symptoms.  Just by changing his diet we have reversed his problem and he is a now healthy 9 year old.  I remember the days between his blood test and diagnosis well.  Not only were we worried that he might have CF, we were also worried what that diagnosis would mean for his two sisters and all his cousins.

Today we offer CF screening to all couples when they come in for their initial visit.  About 50% of couples choose to have screening done and detection rates are as expected – 1/29 Caucasians, and 1/46 Hispanics, and 1/65 African Americans turn out positive.  When this happens we screen their spouses. Luckily, it is very rare that both partners are positive for the CF mutation and no treatment is needed.  But when we do find the 1/900 Caucasians (much rarer in other ethnicities) couples where both are positive for the CF mutation, it is comforting that we can offer treatments that will eliminate the risk of an affected child before they become pregnant.

David Forstein –


The Mind Body Program

  Guest Blog from:                                     

Cynthia K. Whitaker, LISW/CP &

The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility

Introduces the Mind/Body Approach to Infertility


Research has shown that women who experience infertility can report higher than normal levels of physical and psychological symptoms including: insomnia, headaches, fatigue, abdominal pain, depression, isolation, anger, frustration and anxiety. This is complex and not well understood. Some scientists believe that negative emotions may negatively impact conception. Often, these feelings are the result, not the cause, of infertility. In either case, a reduction in stress and tension clearly is beneficial.

The Mind/Body Approach to infertility is a comprehensive, complementary program designed to decrease physical and psychological symptoms, reduce isolation, and educate participants on the potential impact of positive changes to lifestyle behaviors for improved reproductive health. Recent research has demonstrated that past participants in this program experienced significant improvements in psychological health as well as increased pregnancy rates following completion of the program.

Program Components

  • Elicitation of the relaxation response, a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress (decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension)
  • Cognitive-behavioral strategies to enhance skills for coping with negative emotions
  • Up to date information about the impact of exercise, nutrition and other lifestyle choices on reproductive health
  • Practice of effective communication and good self care

Program Goals

  • Increase your sense of control and well-being
  • Reduce/manage physical symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, headache or abdominal pain
  • Examine factors such as lifestyle, diet, stressors that directly affect health
  • Broaden understanding of relationship between stress and infertility
  • Develop skills to ease the process of infertility treatment

Research Demonstrates

  • Infertile women are significantly more depressed than fertile women
  • Infertile women have equivalent levels of anxiety and depression as women with cancer, heart disease or HIV status
  • Depression can have a correlation with poor response rate in IVF treatment
  • Participants in the program experienced decreased levels of depression, anger, and anxiety
  • Women who had been trying to conceive for 1-2 years prior to beginning mind/body treatment experienced a 55% take home baby rate compared to a 20% rate in women receiving standard medical treatment alone

Clinical Visits, Costs and Insurance Coverage

  • The infertility program will meet at the Life Center from 5:00 – 8:00 PM
  • There will be an initial evaluation with the clinical counselor
  • There will be 10 weekly 2 ½ hour session ( 3 of  these will include husbands/partners)

All of the sessions will be held on Thursday evenings with the exception of one Sunday session, which is for couples from 10:00AM – 4:00PM.)

  • There will be a discharge session with the clinical counselor

In most cases, billable claims are submitted directly to your insurance carrier as a medical office visit. The first, the seventh and ninth sessions of the 10-week program will require self-payment. You will be responsible for your co pay at the remainder of the sessions. You will need to contact one of our financial coordinators Stephanie Brown at

455-1600, or Allison Fowler at 454-2219 and they will also schedule an initial evaluation counseling session with Cynthia Whitaker, LISW/CP. Your checks should be made payable to The Center for Women’s Medicine. Those checks will be collected at each weekly session by your counselor.

  • There will be a one-time materials charge of $35.00 payable at the first session.
  • For Session 1 you will have an out of pocket expense of $50.00; this is in addition to materials fee.
  • Your insurance co pays will be due at Sessions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10.
  • For Session 7, you will pay your co pay in addition to a $25.00 check made payable to

Ross Muller, LPC, the male therapist who will meet with the men’s group.

  • For Session 9 there will be an out of pocket cost of  $140.00, which will pay for the massage therapists teaching the art of couples massage.

The initial evaluation should be scheduled with Cynthia Whitaker at The Center for Women’s Medicine (864-455-1600). The initial evaluation session must be scheduled prior to the 10-week program. The discharge session will also be with Ms. Whitaker and will be scheduled at the end of the 10-week program. In most cases, if your insurance provides mental health coverage, the charges will only involve your co pay.

 In the event where insurance reimbursement is not available, the patient will be responsible for the cost of the initial evaluation at $176.00, the discharge session at $114.00, as well as a fee of $70.00 for each weekly session.

Mind/Body Infertility Weekend Retreats

For those who live too far from the Greenville area or live out of state, weekend retreats for women and couples coping with infertility will be help periodically. The retreats will present most of the skills taught in the 10-week Mind/Body Approach and will be strictly self-pay. Call the facility for further information.

Who Would Benefit

  • All women having difficulty conceiving, including those currently involved with IVF programs

For Further Information

The Infertility staff includes Cynthia K. Whitaker, LISW/CP, Director of Mind/Body Program,

Paul Miller, MD, Medical Director, Bruce Lessey, MD, and David Forstein, MD.

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility

890 W. Faris Road, Suite 470

Greenville, SC 29605

(864) 455-1600


The Fertility Chase

We were proud to be asked to participate in this new series on Infertility, coming out during Infertility Awareness Month. The making of our segment was a lot of fun and the folds at Exodus Productions were very professional and talented. The final product allowed us to tell a story about people that might otherwise have not conceived without science, expertise and trust on their part. The story centered on couples with unexplained infertility and highlighted how endometriosis is a silent partner to that diagnosis. Many women have infertility as their only symptom of endometriosis and are surprised when we find mild, moderate or even severe disease. Some women have painful periods or pain with intercourse but just thought it was normal and have adjusted to it. We even see women that are nauseated to the point of vomiting during each menstrual cycle but never equated that with endometriosis.

At the heart of the episode on unexplained infertility were several women that have separate stories to tell. Michelle conceived in the past after endometriosis was diagnosed. Kate was part of a study on endometrial integrins and based on a positive test (the lack of the alpha v/beta 3 integrin – ETEGRITY TEST), she had endometriosis diagnosed and treated and now is pregnant for the second time. Wilma failed IVF 4 times and had never had a laparoscopy. After her endometriosis was treated her LAST 2 frozen embryos were put back and she conceived with twins. Just think about the heartache and expense of having a correctable condition that went undiagnosed for so long. After holding those children (at the time of transfer and again when they were over 1 year old) I was struck by how important it is to test for uterine receptivity, especially in IVF failure cases where a good explanation is not forthcoming.

One of the true heroines of the epidsode is Danielle. She is a person who has endured a great deal of pain and finally had her endometriosis completely resected. While no longer in pain, she is waiting to conceive and may require IVF to realize that dream due to her endometriosis. We are hoping each month that she will conceive and looking forward to that moment to celebrate with them.

So, if you haven’t see it, here is the link. I am looking forward to seeing the other episodes that are coming and maybe there will be season II when we can delve deeper into this whole issue of IVF failure and endometriosis.

Enjoy! http://ow.ly/1vyOb

June 2018
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