Most Infertility Patients Try Nonmedical Treatments

For as long as couples have found it difficult to conceive and start a family, they have tried folk remedies and nonmedical advice from family and friends to improve their chances of becoming pregnant. With the development of the Internet, these recommendations can be shared at the keyboard, and advice has become even more widespread.

A study from The Ohio State University Medical Center showed that a majority of infertility patients used alternative therapies while attempting to become pregnant. The findings were published in a recent issue of The Journal of Reproductive Medicine.

Nonmedical treatments for infertility can range from dietary changes and herbal remedies to acupuncture, yoga or massage therapy. In some cases charms, cards or other objects have been handed down through a family’s generations to help enhance the chance of pregnancy. “The study speaks to people’s commitment to do everything within their power to conceive,” said Dr. Jonathan Schaffir, obstetrician at The Ohio State University Medical Center and lead author of the study. “Most of the nonmedical options are shown to be harmless but very few, if any, have been shown to actually benefit infertility.”

Schaffir has recognized, and warns against, taking herbal medications, herbal teas, or an overabundance of vitamins, without consulting a physician. Some supplements have not been well studied, and herbal preparations may be inappropriately produced, leading either to sickness or to interference with infertility treatment.

Of 133 patients who completed questionnaires, 62.2 percent indicated use of alternative therapies. The most common were religious intervention (33.8 percent), changes in sexual practices (28.6 percent), and dietary changes (21.8 percent). Patients using alternative therapies were younger than those who did not. The study showed no difference in use of such interventions by women of different income, education, length of infertility or parity.

While most alternative treatments, from acupuncture to massage, are not risky in themselves, patients should consider the expenditure of time and money needed. In some cases, patients may consider it worthwhile if the treatment helps them feel relaxed and in control of their situation.

“However, if women utilize family members or the Internet for advice on infertility, they should not rely on unproven treatments for remedies. This could delay seeing a physician and possibly result in a lost opportunity,” said Dr. Beth Kennard, director, reproductive endocrinology/infertility at OSU Medical Center, and an author of the paper.

An aging woman has a declining chance of natural fertility. For example, a 34-year-old has a 15 percent chance of infertility, while a 40-year-old has twice that rate. “An undiagnosed condition may exist, such as underlying hormonal imbalances or a husband’s low sperm count. By postponing treatment for a woman with endometriosis, the condition could progress and may require more extensive medical or surgical treatment,” said Kennard.

“When patients use alternative therapies, they should always plan to use them in conjunction with conventional medical treatment,” warns Kennard. “The nonmedical treatments, used by themselves, could lead to a loss of time, and age can be the major factor in infertility.”

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