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Acupuncture and IVF


Should You Consider It?

Have you ever had acupuncture?  It’s now widely accepted in the medical community as a treatment for chronic pain and some other conditions like arthritis.  When you have an acupuncture treatment, the practitioner inserts tiny, sterile needles on places called acupoints, stimulating the body’s self-healing process.  In traditional Chinese medicine, the disease is caused by blockages in the body’s energy flow or qi, and acupuncture improves that flow.  Many people find that acupuncture eases pain, anxiety, and other symptoms.  But does it improve your chances of IVF success?

Acupuncture and the IVF Cycle

A number of fertility clinics offer complementary medicine and wellness services to their IVF patients, including yoga, massage, meditation and acupuncture.  Acupuncture before embryo transfer has been thought to increase blood flow to the uterus or to prevent uterine contractions.  The theory is that either result would improve the chances of an embryo implanting in the uterus after it is transferred.  Acupuncture can also be done earlier in the cycle to lessen the side effects of fertility medications.  Other proponents of acupuncture point to its stress reducing properties. IVF treatment entails a lot of physical and emotional stress for the patient and her partner.   In fact, stress is one of the major reasons couples drop out of IVF treatment before succeeding.  Acupuncture may help you feel calmer and less anxious as you go through treatment.

But Does It Work?

Several studies have been done on whether acupuncture improves IVF success rates, and the results are split.  Some studies showed improvement, while others did not.  Fertility clinics with lower than average success rates showed a few percentage points of improvement, while clinics with higher rates did not.  It’s not known if the results were due to acupuncture or to a placebo effect.  So there’s no significant evidence that acupuncture improves IVF success rates, despite what some Chinese medicine practitioners say.

However, many reproductive endocrinologists believe that relaxation and stress reduction improve a patient’s sense of wellness.  Again, there isn’t strong research evidence that reducing stress improves your chances of getting pregnant.  But there continue to be theories that stress hormones may interfere with fertility medications, and nearly every physician is in favor of reducing stress during fertility treatment.  Feeling relaxed and more positive during the anxious ups and downs of IVF treatment is reason enough to try acupuncture or other alternative therapies like yoga and massage.  These treatments are NOT a substitute for evaluation by a fertility specialist or for fertility treatment.  But they can be a positive complement to the procedures and medications you go through as part of IVF.