Ohhhh boy, I know this topic better than just about any other, as you may have seen from my story. I remember finally plucking up the courage to see a fertility specialist, being sent for blood tests, immediately getting online and googling what all the tests were and how to interpret the results … and fast coming to the conclusion that the absolute worst case scenario was an FSH over 10. “The cruelest number of all” was how one site described it.
If you’ve clocked in with elevated FSH (usually defined as any reading >10) or OK FSH but elevated E2 (>150 in NZ units, or >40 in U.S. units) or low AMH (<14 pmol/l in NZ units, or 2ng/ml in US units), then you have probably been visiting Dr. Google and have come up with a very depressing view of your chances. Your specialist may also have told you this is not good news. And no, it’s not, but here are a few snippets of information I’ve been able to glean in my travels.
First, let’s blow a few myths out of the water …
- Your age is far more important than your FSH – if you are 33 years old with an FSH of 20, then you do NOT have the eggs of a 43-year-old. You have the eggs of a 33-year-old, just fewer of them than your average 33-year-old.
- If your FSH fluctuates and is sometimes high and sometimes normal (with normal E2 as well), then your prognosis is about the same as if your FSH was consistently slightly elevated (say, low teens).
- Even if your FSH reading is quite high (say, 30 or 40 or more), this alone does NOT mean you are in menopause. Menopause is defined as not ovulating and no periods for 12 months. If you still get AF – and particularly if you are still ovulating! – you are definitely NOT in menopause!
- If you do get pregnant, your chances of miscarriage are just the same as anyone else your age – high FSH does not increase the chances of aneuploidy or miscarriage (yes, this has been studied!).
What does high FSH/low AMH mean?
- You have diminished ovarian reserve (DOR). This means you are running low on eggs and are likely to hit menopause sooner than average (the average is age 51). How much sooner is very hard to say – it could be 10 years away or more; it could be much sooner.
- You are likely to be a “poor responder” to IVF stimulation drugs. In other words, if you try IVF, you are likely to produce fewer eggs than most women and your chances of pregnancy will be lower because of the smaller numbers.
How can I reduce my FSH?
The short answer to this is that it’s a wild goose chase. Nothing much works to get the number down consistently, but the more important point is that even if you did, it doesn’t change the fact that you are low on eggs. Don’t waste your energy chasing a lower number because that isn’t going to get you pregnant. What you do know for sure is that you are short on time, so put your energies into finding the golden egg(s) from those that are left.
Having said that, it is possible to artificially suppress FSH using either Buserelin (an agonist), birth control pills or some form of estrogen (such as estradiol valerate). This is usually done prior to starting an IVF cycle and is known as ‘pre-cycle suppression’. More on that in another post …
Should I believe just one reading?
It’s never a good idea to make major decisions based on one blood test result, or even on two or three tests that confirm a similar result. There are some other tests of ovarian reserve, and it’s a good idea to ask for them:
- FSH – Follicle Stimulating Hormone – should always be done with a test for estrogen as well (otherwise it’s uninterpretable); should be done on CD2-3 of cycle, although some drs will do it CD1-4.
- AMH – Anti-Mullarian Hormone – may be done at any time during the cycle
- AFC – antral follicle count – this is a vaginal ultrasound,Â usually done early in your cycle, where the dr counts the number of ‘resting’ or ‘antral’ follicles that are candidates for selection at the beginning of a cycle. This gives you aÂ very rough ballpark of the maximum number of eggs you might get on the right IVF stimulation protocol.
Is there any hope for women with high FSH not using donor eggs?
High FSH does present some difficult challenges. However, there have been success cases, lots of them, especially among those with just mildly elevated FSH (in the teens). At higher levels (FSH in the 20s, 30s and 40s), we still see successes, but just in lower numbers, and the success cases show a definite drop-off in older women. There have been some rare cases of success in extremely high FSH cases – two I know of personally were a 28-year-old with FSH 164 (yes, that’s a hundred and sixty-four) and another with FSH clocking up to 110 who had three children over several years (including the last one at 41).
Those interested in poring over some unscientifically documented success cases should check out the following links:
- High FSH success cases by age and FSH level
- The Over 40 High FSH Timeline (search the Over 40 High FSH board for “timeline” to find the latest one)
- Extremely High FSH success cases (very rare, but just FYI)
I’ll follow this up soon with some more information on treatment options for high FSHers, including natural approaches and alternative medicine as well as different IVF protocols that seem to work best for high FSHers.
In the meantime, a great resource to check out is my friend PJ’s site: http://highfshinfo.com