Immune System and IVF: Unpacking the Connection
In vitro fertilization (IVF) has been a game-changer for couples struggling with infertility. It has provided hope and the possibility of starting a family for many individuals who would otherwise not have been able to conceive. However, the success of IVF can sometimes be hindered by the complex interplay between the immune system and the reproductive process. Understanding this connection is crucial for individuals undergoing IVF and their healthcare providers.
It is important to understand that a balanced and strong immune system is necessary for a successful pregnancy, but certain immune system disorders can pose challenges in conception.
How immune system works?
The immune system is responsible for protecting the body against harmful pathogens and foreign substances. It plays a critical role in maintaining the overall health and well-being of an individual. The adaptive (specific) immune system produces antibodies that are used to fight specific germs with which the body has previously come into contact.
How Do Immune System Disorders Impact Fertility?
Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which the immune system of the body attacks healthy cells and tissues, mistaking them for foreign or abnormal. Instead of attacking dangerous foreign bodies, the immune system begins to attack healthy tissues by producing antibodies against them.
An autoimmune condition can be a major cause of infertility in both men and women. This is due to the importance of the immune system in the proper functioning of the body, including the reproductive organs.
Because of its critical role in embryo implantation in the uterus and the development of a pregnancy, the immune system may be one of the causes of infertility.
Having an autoimmune disease (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or Type I diabetes) increases your chances of becoming infertile. These conditions can also affect your ovaries, reducing your ovarian reserve or the number of eggs left in your ovaries. This can result in premature menopause and infertility.
When it comes to the implantation of embryos, women sometimes experience problems. The embryo will initially be regarded as a foreign body by the immune system when it is functioning normally. The mother’s immune system, however, begins defending the embryo against attack by other foreign bodies later. Among women with autoimmune diseases, this is not the case. The immune system begins attacking the embryo after failing to recognize it, which frequently results in miscarriages.
The importance of a balanced immune system in pregnancy
A strong, balanced immune system is vital in pregnancy as it helps the uterus accept and nurture the embryo. Your immune system is responsible for triggering certain blood vessels necessary for creating and growing the placenta to facilitate the healthy development of your baby. In addition to increasing your risk for infection and disease, a weakened immune system may not be able to support a pregnancy.
You may need to be tested for certain autoimmune diseases if you’ve been trying to conceive for a long time and are experiencing infertility or recurrent miscarriages:
- Thyroid disease.
- Decreased ovarian reserve.
- Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome (APLAS).
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus.
- Anti-sperm antibodies.
Immunological Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
The riskiest moment in any human pregnancy is arguably when the fertilized egg attaches to the womb wall and tries to establish a lifeline between embryo and mother. About half of in vitro pregnancies fail during this implantation stage, and many natural pregnancies end then as well.
IVF-created embryos may occasionally be mistakenly identified by the immune system as foreign invaders and come under attack. Immunological implantation dysfunction (IID) is a phenomenon that can drastically lower the likelihood of successful implantation and pregnancy.
Infertility or RPL is caused by immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) in 15-20% of women. Therefore, it is important to assess and treat all women who have endometriosis, unexplained infertility/repeated failed IVF, RPL, or a personal or family history of primary autoimmune diseases.
Causes of Immunological Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
There are several factors that can contribute to IID in individuals undergoing IVF. One of the main culprits is an overactive immune response, where the immune system is hyperactive and more prone to attacking embryos. This can be caused by various conditions such as autoimmune disorders or chronic inflammation. Additionally, certain genetic factors can also play a role in predisposing individuals to IID.
Treatments for Immunological Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
To address the issue of IID, healthcare providers have developed various strategies to modulate the immune response during IVF. One common approach is the use of immunosuppressive medications, such as corticosteroids or intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIG). These medications work by suppressing the immune system and reducing its activity, thus minimizing the risk of attack on the embryos.
Another technique that has gained popularity in recent years is preimplantation genetic testing (PGT). PGT allows healthcare providers to screen embryos for chromosomal abnormalities and select the ones that have the highest chances of successful implantation. By choosing genetically healthy embryos, the risk of IID can be significantly reduced.
Lifestyle factors modulating the immune response during IVF
In addition to medical interventions, lifestyle factors can influence the immune response during IVF. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and stress management can all contribute to a well-functioning immune system. Furthermore, avoiding toxins and maintaining a healthy body weight can help improve the chances of successful IVF outcomes.
Immune System and IVF
It is important to note that the relationship between the immune system and IVF is still being researched. While there has been significant progress in understanding and treating IID, there is still much to learn. Healthcare providers are constantly looking for new strategies and interventions to improve IVF success rates for people who have immune-related fertility issues.
If you are considering IVF or are currently undergoing treatment, it is critical that you communicate openly and honestly with your healthcare provider. They can give you personalized advice and recommendations based on your specific situation. You can navigate the complexities of the immune system and increase your chances of a successful IVF journey by working together.
Some additional notes should be noticed about the immune system and IVF
- The role of the immune system in early pregnancy: The immune system plays an important role in early pregnancy by helping to protect the embryo from infection and disease. However, it is also important for the immune system to be tolerant of the embryo, so that it does not attack it.
- The use of immune modulators in IVF: In addition to immunosuppressive medications, there are a number of other immune modulators that can be used to improve IVF success rates. These include antioxidants, probiotics, and botanical supplements.
- The importance of patient-provider communication: It is important for individuals undergoing IVF to communicate openly and honestly with their healthcare provider about their medical history and any concerns they may have about the immune system. This will help the healthcare provider to develop a personalized treatment plan that is tailored to the individual’s specific needs.
Finally, the immune system and IVF have a complicated relationship that can affect the success of fertility treatments. Understanding this link and putting appropriate interventions in place can increase the chances of successful implantation and pregnancy. Individuals undergoing IVF can improve their chances of starting a family and fulfilling their dreams of parenthood by staying informed and working closely with healthcare providers.
Our team of experts specializing in IVF and infertility treatment is available to assist you in any area. Click here to contact us.
Mor, G., Cardenas, I., Abrahams, V. and Guller, S. (2011), Inflammation and pregnancy: the role of the immune system at the implantation site. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1221: 80-87. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05938.x
CROY, B.A. (1985), Use of experimental embryo transfer to study the role of the immune system in embryonic death. Equine Veterinary Journal, 17: 49-52. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2042-3306.1985.tb04593.x
Tomassetti, C., Meuleman, C., Pexsters, A., Mihalyi, A., Kyama, C., Simsa, P., & D’Hooghe, T. M. (2006). Endometriosis, recurrent miscarriage and implantation failure: is there an immunological link?. Reproductive biomedicine online, 13(1), 58-64.