|What Is FSH?
Follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) are an essential 'ingredient' in regulating a woman's menstrual cycle. They are a naturally occurring hormone released by the pituitary gland (located in the brain, see human body) and cause eggs in the ovaries to ripen and mature. Men also produce FSH and it helps with sperm production. High levels of FSH in younger women can cause female infertility and in men it can cause male infertility. In older women, high FSH levels is an indication that they are in perimenopause. FSH levels rise when the ovaries start to produce less estrogen. While this is a natural part of the aging process (which is why women gradually lose their fertility), in younger women low estrogen production is usually caused by an underlying condition like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). When estrogen levels start to fall, the pituitary gland cranks up its FSH production in response. It tries to kick-start the ovaries into producing more estrogen. When the ovaries do not react, estrogen levels stay low and no egg is released. Pregnancy cannot occur.
Although the numbers may vary from lab to lab, anything over 10mIU/ml is considered a diminished ovarian reserve. Ovarian reserve is a term doctors use to describe the ability of the ovaries to produce healthy eggs for fertilization. A diminished reserve is not good news for women who wish to become pregnant naturally. They may need to consider IVF therapy. If you are aged under 40 and your FSH level is higher than 20 you will be diagnosed with premature ovarian failure. If you are aged over 40 your doctor will probably say your levels are a natural response to aging and that you are entering menopause.
FSH Levels and IVF
How Are FSH Levels Tested?
1. You are trying for a baby for some time but have not become pregnant.
See: How long does it take to get pregnant?
Currently there is no conventional medical treatment for lowering FSH levels. A doctor may prescribe contraceptive pills or synthetic estrogen, which can help women with annoying PCOS symptoms or irregular periods. In some instances it may help to kick-start the ovaries into producing eggs again, although evidence of success is thin on the ground. Some doctors feel prescribing birth control pills for fertility purposes is a waste of time when other infertility treatments may be more suitable (like IVF).
A high FSH level tends to indicate poor egg quality, however even if your FSH levels are within the normal range, you can still have poor egg quality. This is particularly true of women in their 40s. An infertile woman of 43 for example with normal FSH levels (7) still has a low chance of conceiving, even using IVF because her eggs are not likely to be very ‘healthy’. This is why most fertility clinics have an age restriction on IVF; the cut off range is usually between the ages of 42 and 45. One way to increase the chance of having a baby at this age is to use a donor egg from a younger woman (this is known as egg donation, an expensive fertility treatment).
|Related Articles on FSH
For more related topics, see the following:
• IVF Protocols: Explanation of IVF treatment plans.
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