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Trying Acupuncture: Fertile Thoughts

Q: I am in my mid-thirties and very healthy (never had a miscarriage, am thin and active, and have never been hospitalized). I’d like to try acupuncture in lieu of infertility treatment for six months. My husband and I have only been trying to have a baby for six months and I just can’t afford IVF right now, but could afford $100 a week for acupuncture. I read that acupuncture is getting more recognition by the medical establishment for increasing a woman’s odds of getting pregnant. I figure, it can’t hurt, so why not try. What are your thoughts on the matter? Should I give myself a time limit—say six months of acupuncture—before moving on toward traditional fertility treatments?

A: You are correct; there are reports in the medical literature that suggest acupuncture may be helpful when used in conjunction with infertility treatment. That is pregnancy rates may be somewhat better with some therapies (particularly IVF) if acupuncture is used along with treatment (not in place of treatment).

With that said, not every infertile couple needs IVF. In fact only a small percentage of infertile couples require IVF. There are many other effective therapies that are not so expensive that may help you achieve your goal without great cost. You must know what the problem is before you can determine what the best course of action is. I would strongly encourage you to have an infertility evaluation done before you spend any money on acupuncture treatments. Once you have identified the problem, you can then make a better decision about potential treatments. Just because you have an evaluation does not mean you have to institute treatment.

You made the statement that you could afford the $100/week to do acupuncture treatments for six months. That may be true, but after six months (twenty-six weeks) at $100/week, the total cost is $2,600 and in my mind that is a lot of money that may be wasted if, for instance, a simple semen analysis might find that the sperm count is low and that might be the reason for your infertility. The money then would have been better spent to have a urologic evaluation and perhaps some intrauterine inseminations. In that case, you might find that you would be pregnant without spending $2600.

My advice would be to have an evaluation to determine the cause of your infertility and what your treatment options are and then decide about acupuncture. If your infertility is unexplained and you would like to try acupuncture, go ahead, but remember costs mount up fast even at a mere $100/week. I would limit an acupuncture-only trial to three months and then add something else (perhaps in conjunction with acupuncture) if you like the treatments (many patients say acupuncture helps them to relax).

Good luck!

Fertile Thoughts is published monthly. Each column features a real question from a reader, and we invite other readers to respond with their thoughts and insights by posting comments. If you have a question for Dr. Carlene Elsner, please send it to her care of the editor at laura@realgirlsmedia.com. Your question will be kept in the strictest of confidence.

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