Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Will it be Bravelle or Follistim?

Anyone who has gone through, contemplated or will soon go through IVF knows just how important your protocol is. While is not the entire determining factor of success, it is a HUGE part of it.

A protocol should be specifically designed with the woman's infertility factors in mind: any and all conditions or family conditions, past surgeries, current blood work, ultrasounds, any past incidents of miscarriages, and probably many other things I'm forgetting. Point being, your protocol shouldn't be out-of-the-box. Everyone's body is different and in order for you to get to the outcome you desire (yes, a BFP!), your protocol should be one that is custom-fit for your issues in mind. Even then, there is no exact science, but it's a great place to start.

Count my issues, and blessings, one by one
Luckily, I have age on my side. My ovarian count, or FSH level, appears to be good and my AFC is good (15+). What I'm working with is the fact that I have only one ovary (appears to be slightly damaged due to surgical scarring) which means they may get less eggs and I have PCOS. At this point, it might be good that I have PCOS to some extent because it likely means I'll still produce a good number of follicles and eggs during IVF. The problem is, however, those eggs may be of lesser quality than your average woman.

Along with most other PCOS women, my FSH to LH ratio is out of whack
Normal values should be a 1:1 ratio, where as PCO women have an LH that is more like 2 to even 3 times as high as their FSH. Mine is 4.5 times as high!! This means that my body is ultra sensitive to LH. If there is too much, this can cause an over-production of androgens (male hormones), which can have a negative impact on the quaility of the eggs the retrieve. Poor quality eggs can sometimes lead to a lesser potential that they will fertilize well and turn into healthy embryos for transfer. No healthy embroys, means no BFP.

So, how does this relate back to my IVF protocol?
Well, I am - for certain - going to be on the Long Lupron Protocol. Lurpon is designed to suppress your pitutiary so that your body doesn't make it's own LH or FSH. The idea behind this protocol is that between BCP clearing up most cysts and by taking the Lupron for an etended period of time, my body's hormones and natural androgen production should be at a minimum. Once the ovaries are quiet, then they'll add in the drugs stimulate the ovary(ies) to do it's thing and from there the idea is that we'll recruite between atleast 8-15 healthy eggs, or more if we're super lucky. Yes, the time before stimming is critical for someone with PCOS, but stimming itself is JUST as important.

This brings me to the concern that came about in our calendar review.
As we were handed out calendar, we saw a familiar, but unexpected stim with our name on it - Bravelle. We had read about this drug in many places, including Dr. Sher's book (wow, I still haven't reviewed this...) and SIRM's Dr. visited forums, but couldn't for the life of us think about what the difference between this drug and Gonal F or Follistim were. We knew for certain that the latter two were 100% FSH because, in truth, that's what we expected we'd see on our calendar.

Instead, it was six days of Bravelle (3 vials each day to be exact). To be sure I understood before we went any further, I asked our coordinator what the difference between that and Follistim was. She started by explaining that everyone is given specific protocols and that our doctor wouldn't put us on something if he didn't think it was "the" way to go. Ok - I buy that. Afterall, we think Dr. A is swell and he has wonderful success rates. No need to be convinced on that one - it's one of the main reasons we chose him. Ok, so after being assured our protocol is custom and carefully selected, my husband mentions that we were just surprised to see it on our calendar and that we happen to have been gifted Follistim. Now... give me a little "eeeeerrrrr" breaks sound effect and spin your little car around into a 360. "Oh, you have Follistim. Well if you have Follistim, then we'll use that for sure."
Wait just a sec. A minute ago Bravelle was "the" stim for us that had been specifically selected from a host of drugs. We both say to her in unison, "If Bravelle is what Dr. Ahlering things will be best for us, then we, by all means, want to use that instead. Even if it means having to buy different drugs. We're ok with that." To which she assures us it's no problem to substitute an equal amount of Follistim for the units of Bravelle we were supposed to be on. Again, I ask - what is the main difference between Follistim and Bravelle (half of me wished I'd brought our book with us, but I can only imagine how that would have come off), to which she replied something like "they're the exact same thing". I really wasn't up for arguing and I was putting my trust in the fact that she does this nearly every day. So, we continue on.

Back at work that afternoon, I decided to do one last inquiry on the matter and low and behold, it is what I suspected. While Follistim and Gonal F are the same thing (FSH only), Bravelle is FSH + 2% LH. With my body's natural sensitivity to LH, my instant reaction is to think that an FSH only stim would be the way to go for me. Additional research also seems to support this. However, even so, I want to keep an open mind. Afterall, I DO trust my doctor. He really does seem to put his all into each and every cycle. Knowing we're all human, I don't expect my coordinator to remember every little fact there is surrounding IVF. So even that I'm willing to keep an open mind about. I do think, though, that the doctor should always give the final OK, even in situations where it seems safe to switch something up.

In an effort to stay on the same page with our coordinator, I sent her an e-mail asking that we better understand the "whys" behind the protocol that was selected for us. I also brought up our concern about having too much LH given my circumstance. In the end, we are really just seeking peace of mind. To know that we're going into this cycle with a game plan that feels, within our depths, like "the" protocol is sooo extremely important.

Our doctor's been on vacation this past week, so we hope to hear back sometime this week about what lies ahead for our stim. In the meantime, we start Lurpon next Wednesday!

From a high level, here's what our IVF protcol looks like, currently:
  • Continue BCP. When I come to the sugar pills, I'll skip those and start a new pack.
  • On 7/15, begin daily prescription prenatal vitamin, Dexamethasone in the AM (a low dose steroid that enhances the implantation process by positively impacting the immune receptivity of the embryo; I was told this can cause insomnia. Let's hope not... I think I'll be needing all the sleep I can get during this time) and start the first of our daily Lupron injections in the AM (Lupron is designed to suppress the pituitary which produces your body's own key hormones - FSH & LH).
  • I should get a period around 7/22-7/24.
  • 7/23 I go in for a baseline ultrasound to check out my ovary
  • Still on Lupron, on 7/28 I'll add in my injectable stim of FSH in the PM- actual stim type still TBD. Hmm... TBD? Yep. I'll expand on this in a sec.
  • Still on Lupron and stim, on 7/31 add in a 3rd injection of LH (Menopur).
  • Skip a day of Menopur and on 8/2 add in another dose of Menopur (LH).
  • On 8/3, I'll go in for an US and E2 check. This is, what they consider to be CD9 and it marks the last day for Lupron. It's also the last of the true concrete part of this calendar.
I will scan my updated calendar, once we here back regarding our stim. It really is crazy to see it all mapped out in one solitary calendar.

As for what's not on the calendar yet... the rest is still very much up in the air. Generally speaking, the first week in August I will likely be in my RE's office for a daily ultrasound and perhaps blood work. Our coordinator thinks that I'll respond nicely to the stims (I guess since I'm PCO?) and that I'll probably do the HCG trigger shot during the mid morning on 8/5, which would put my retrieval sometime Friday. The trigger time and retrieval procedure will be precisely timed and I might not have too much advance notice as to when we'll trigger. If, I do in fact, have that sort of timing on retrieval, and they get a good number of eggs and then embryos to fertilize, she is guessing I'd do a 5 day transfer of two embbies on Wed 8/12. Even still, all of the stuff just mentioned is a total guess at this point.

Ah, the suspense! And we're not even in the thick of things yet.

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'Murgdan' July 8, 2009 at 5:23 AM  

My doctor wrote for Bravelle + Menopur for my last cycle...but someone had gifted me a zillion units of Gonal-F so I requested that instead of the Bravelle and my doc was fine with it. I was concerned about the Menopur since it has a larger proportion of LH...but my stimming went perfectly and it was obviously what I needed.

But as far as the subtle difference between the Bravelle and the other pure FSH drugs, I think they sometimes just choose it because they have a deal with that particular drug company...my nurse told me they happened to have the best price at the time and that was how he chose it...I'm sure that factors in sometimes.

Anyway...shouldn't be a problem at at all to switch. (I, too, thought--oh no..they want me on this one and switching may ruin everything...but it couldn't have gone better despite my switch up).

Jess July 8, 2009 at 10:22 AM  

Murgdan answered your questions and since I have no clue, I'm going to write something else.

Thank you for putting this all out there for us to read. I'm not sure where my road will lead but if I do have to take the path of IVF, I feel I'm educated on it and less scared because of you.

I'm wishing the best for you two and praying this cycle gives you 1/2 healthy little babies. Have you decided if you are going to try for 1 or 2 babies?


Anonymous July 9, 2009 at 10:19 AM  

Kathy it's so great to hear all your positivity and the details you're looking into. To get to the protocol, I have done Meropur+Luveris which is infact FSH+LH (but I don't have PCOS) and strangely this time around on a short protocol they kept the same stim drugs. We'll just have to go with the flow! Love, Fran

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