Surgical Procedures for Infertility
Certain surgical procedures for infertility may be presented to you by the fertility doctor. It will depend on the type of diagnosis.
Cervical Related Problems
The cervix plays an important part in reproduction. The cervix is the neck of the womb and produces mucous. The mucous prevents bacteria from ascending up the genital tract and infecting the uterus and fallopian tubes. To fertilise an egg the mucous needs to allow sperm to pass. Therefore changes in the mucous occur just before ovulation. Estrogen produced by the developing follicle makes the mucous thinner and more watery. If intercourse occurs at this time the sperm can pass through the cervix easily and fertilise the egg when it is released.
When there are abnormalities of the cervical mucous, sperm could find it difficult to pass through the cervix, thus fertilisation does not occur. Infections of the cervix can also ascend to involve the rest of the reproductive tract, leading to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Cervical factors probably account for approximately 5% of all subfertile couples.
Infections of the cervix such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea are well known to cause subfertility. It ascends through the cervix and affects the uterus and fallopian tubes in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This can cause adhesions to form and thus affect fertility. It also increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy due to damage to the fallopian tubes. However, there is also some evidence that some infections can change the composition of the cervical mucous and prevent the passage of sperm.
The presence of antisperm antibodies, either from the male partner or in the mucous itself, or the use of some lubricants, can also change the mucous. And this can make it more difficult for sperm to pass through the cervix.
When pregnancy takes place, the cervix helps to hold the baby in place until it is fully developed and ready to be born.
The immune system is a great defense against invading microbes and foreign intruders. It distinguishes the difference between normal and alien cells, trigger a local or widespread inflammatory response. In addition it can retain the memory of the offending organism to repel it again if it should ever return. Like any finely-tuned machine the system can break down and leave us open to the threat of infection. Or it can turn against our own healthy tissues, as occurs in such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
Human reproduction also includes the role of the immune system. Inflammatory cells and their secretory products are involved in the processes of ovulation and preparation of the endometrium for implantation of a fertilized egg. When there is an interruption in the immune system, this can interfere with the reproductive processes and cause infertility. An estimated 20% of couples are affected by this immune factor. Although many of these associations with infertility remain unproven, there is solid scientific evidence to implicate the formation of antibodies against sperm as an important infertility factor.
Sperm and embryos are the only two foreign entities the female immune system will not attack. The immune system produces an allo-immune response to the embryo, effectively quarantining it in the uterus and protecting it from attack. However, an unproven theory suggests that some women’s immune systems behave quite differently. That is, attacking the sperm or embryo as if it were an invading cell.
For women with recurrent miscarriage
There are a group of antibodies that appear to attack an early developing pregnancy. This results in either a miscarriage or severe preeclampsia with risk of intrauterine growth retardation or fetal death. Collectively these belong to a class of antibodies known as antiphospholipid antibodies, which include the lupus anticoagulant and the anticardiolipin antibody. Testing for these antibodies are an integral part of the workup for recurrent pregnancy loss. However, it is unclear whether these antibodies play any role in the ability to conceive. Although this is a controversial subject, one of the largest studies that looked for these antibodies in women undergoing in vitro fertilization found that these antibodies were no more likely to be detected in those who did not become pregnant as in women who did conceive.
Surgical Procedures for Infertility
The laparoscopy is an important diagnostic test which allows the physician to visualize the reproductive organs within the pelvic cavity. It is performed as a hospital inpatient procedure under general anesthesia. Two small incisions are made in the abdomen, one at the belly button and one above the pubic bone (at the pubic hair line).
In the laparoscopy, a small “telescope” is inserted through one of the incisions and the surgical tools are passed, and operated, through the other. The abdomen is filled with gas which allows the physician to clearly view the surfaces of the internal organs such as the ovaries, tubes, and uterus.
Many times our patients have already had one or more laparoscopies by the time they seek specialist care. Laparoscopy, for the diagnosis and treatment of infertility, should always be performed by a reproductive specialist who has extensive training and experience in microsurgery.
The incidence of complications from laparoscopy, such as scarring or adhesions, may be less when a specialist performs the laparoscopy. It is oftentimes possible to treat conditions, such as endometriosis, during the diagnostic laparoscopy. The operating surgeon must have the skills necessary to perform the complex surgery that is often required.
A hysterosalpingogram is an X-ray of the uterus and fallopian tubes which allows visualization of the inside of the uterus and tubes. It will reveal any abnormalities of the uterus as well as tubal problems such as blockage and dilation. If sterilization reversal is planned, the point at which the tubes are blocked can be seen. This helps to plan the reconstructive procedure.
If the tubes are not blocked by scar tissue or adhesions, the dye will flow into the abdominal cavity. This is a good sign but it does not guarantee that the tubes will function normally. It does give a rough estimate of the quality of the tubal structure and the status of the tubal lining. Some cases where the tubes appear to be blocked where they join the uterus may actually be normal. Often blockage at this location may be due to spasm of the opening from the uterus into the tube or from accumulated debris and mucous blocking the opening. This can be managed by passing a very thin catheter into the fallopian tube either at the time of hysterosalpingogram or during a hysteroscopic procedure.
A hysterosalpingogram may also indicate endometrial polyps, submucous fibroids, intrauterine adhesions (synechia), uterine and vaginal septa uterine cavity abnormalities, or the after-effect of genital tuberculosis. The hysterosalpingogram may or may not be able to detect pelvic adhesions, mild hydrosalpinx, small polyps, endometriosis, tubal phimosis (clubbing of the fimbria at the end of the tube), or immotility of the tube. Other tests, such as hysteroscopy or laparoscopy may be necessary to accurately evaluate your uterus.
Sometimes forcing dye through the tube will dislodge any material which blocks it. A number of women have become pregnant following a hysterosalpingogram without further treatment.
Hysteroscopy is a surgical procedure for infertility used to examine the uterine cavity. The telescope (and any other instruments that are needed during the operation) is entered into the womb by passing it first through the vagina. Then through the cervix, which is the entrance of the womb lying in the deep part of the vagina. This diagnostic test can also treat blockages, endometriosis or adhesions. Hysteroscopy is useful in the treatment of uterine fibroids that impact the cavity, scarring, polyps and congenital malformations such as a uterine septum.
Myomectomy is the surgical removal of fibroids from the uterus. It allows the uterus to remain in place to preserve or restore fertility and to lessen the probability of miscarriage caused by fibroids. This surgical procedure for infertility is the preferred fibroid treatment for women who want to become pregnant. Sometimes, before vitro fertilization, a myomectomy is performed to improve the chances of fertilization.
Uterine fibroids (also known as myomas) affect 30% of women. They occur in various sizes, numbers, and location in the uterus requiring different types of myomectomy. A pelvic exam, ultrasound, MRI, or hysteroscopy accurately diagnose fibroids. If your physician determines that removal of the fibroids will increase your chance of pregnancy, either a hysteroscopy, laparoscopy, or laparotomy is advised.
In some cases the uterine lining does not develop adequately for implantation of the embryo. In an endometrial biopsy, a small sample of the woman’s uterine lining (endometrium) is removed. This biopsy is the most reliable measure of a woman’s luteal phase (the portion of a menstrual cycle before menstruation, but after ovulation).
With a biopsy, healthcare providers can evaluate whether or not the uterine lining responds normally to progesterone. The effect of progesterone is measured by the adequate preparation of the uterine lining. It can also evaluate abnormal uterine bleeding, which is also generally reflective of hormone imbalances.
Such surgical procedures for infertility is usually done 3 to 7 days before a woman’s menstrual period is expected to begin and is performed in our rooms. Before an endometrial biopsy, it is important to make certain that the woman is not pregnant.