Endometriosis and Infertility

My need for support and companionship during my struggle with infertility and endometriosis led me to join the online patient community. Through my involvement in this community, I have met some of the strongest, most inspiring women. Some of them have become my closest friends and confidants. A good many of them started struggling with infertility in their 20s. Years passed as they tried many treatments and suffered miscarriages. Some of them did receive an endometriosis diagnosis sooner than later. But what is most astonishing is some of them are just starting to get their endometriosis diagnosis, years after they have moved on from infertility treatments. The majority of these friends are now adopting or in the process of adopting. They have found peace in their decision and utter joy in their child. But I can’t help feel their doctors failed them, like mine failed me for so many years. 

The Endometriosis Foundation of America states that “Approximately 176 million women and girls worldwide suffer from endometriosis; 8.5 million in North America alone.” RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association, reports that “40% of women with endometriosis will struggle with infertility” and “In about 30% of women, there are no symptoms except infertility.” The truth is, on average, it takes ten years of a woman shuffling around to different doctors for her to get an endometriosis diagnosis. It took me ten years and I have obvious symptoms of endometriosis, such as painful periods, infertility and chronic digestive and urinary issues. How about women who do not have the obvious symptoms? What about women with unexplained recurrent losses, low-ovarian reserve or poor egg quality? Many of these women have “silent endometriosis.”

Endometriosis can have a profound effect on a woman’s fertility in many different ways. Anatomically speaking, the disease can warp and encase the reproductive organs. Scar tissue and adhesions can obstruct the fallopian tubes, ovaries can adhere to a patient’s pelvic wall or attach to other organs and chocolate cysts can also form on the ovaries. All of these things can impede conceiving naturally. Endometriosis can also be found in the recto-vaginal area of a patient, making sexual intercourse extremely difficult. Also many women have a lot of pain and bloating around ovulation, which also makes the actual act of trying to conceive quite uncomfortable.

There are many more elusive ways endometriosis can impact infertility. Dr. Jeffrey Braverman, a Reproductive Immunologist, gave a fantastic presentation about “silent endometriosis” at the last EFA Patient Seminar. He talked about how he sees patients who have been through years of infertility treatments with no success and no official diagnosis. These patients have issues ranging from never being able to conceive at all, to conceiving and suffering recurrent pregnancy losses, to having poor implantation rates in an IVF cycle. He believes this failure to conceive is due to an altered state of the patient’s immune system, which many times is linked to endometriosis. Many of his patients complain of no pelvic pain or other classic symptoms of endometriosis. Yet, he is able to use other methods to take a clinical look at whether or not their inability to conceive is endometriosis-related.

One of the many tests Dr. Braverman performs on a patient is measuring her cytokine production.  Elevated levels of certain cytokines in a patient can indicate endometriosis. The peritoneal fluid of an endometriosis patient can be saturated with these inflammatory chemicals. This same fluid makes up the follicular fluid which encases the eggs. Cytokines can adversely affect their quality. Many endometriosis patients also find they suffer from low-ovarian reserve for their age.  A recent study, sited at last year’s EFA Medical Conference by Dr. Jamie Knopman, found that women who did not have endometriosis, who used donor eggs from women with endometriosis, had a much lower rate of achieving a healthy pregnancy.

The presence of endometriosis can also affect the patient’s tolerance to allow an embryo to thrive in her body. Dr. Braverman talked about how the embryo is seen as “foreign” to the mother’s immune system due to the male sperm component of the embryo. If the patient is using an egg or embryo donor, those components are also seen as foreign. In a healthy patient, immune privilege is given to the embryo, so the body does not reject it.  Inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, such as endometriosis, can disrupt the mother’s immune privilege, leading to the inability to conceive or achieve a healthy pregnancy.  He has also found that endometriosis has its own HLA genetic finger print. There are three common HLA haplotypes that occur with endometriosis that can be tested for.  If patients test positive for these haplotypes, it is yet another indication that endometriosis is the cause for the otherwise unexplained infertility.

Dr. Braverman knows that when patients have no pain, there aren’t many doctors who are going to diagnose them with endometriosis. Most doctors do not have the immunological understanding of the relationship between endometriosis and recurrent pregnancy loss and infertility. He has sent suspected endometriosis patients to Dr. Seckin, who after excision surgery, were diagnosed with Stage 4 endometriosis. Elevated FSH levels and low AMH levels as well as a family history of endometriosis can also be indicators of the disease. Also many patients who have adenomyosis, which usually can be spotted on ultrasounds or MRIs, often also have endometriosis as well.

I wish every gynecologist and reproductive endocrinologist had this information. It is important that patients struggling with infertility get proper and timely care. Dr. Braverman stressed that excellent excision surgery, done by skilled surgeons like Dr. Seckin, only improves a women’s fertility. He has witnessed a significant improvement in egg quality and embryo quality once the majority of the endometriosis in the pelvic cavity is removed, which then removes the cytokine load that the ovaries are bathing in. The removal of the disease also helps with the immunological implantation issues and helps the patient develop a tolerance for the embryo. Dr. Seckin has seen many patients of his go on to get pregnant after excision surgery.  Dr. Braverman also finds that many of his patients thrive with surgery coupled with immunological therapies.

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. Endometriosis is one of the leading causes of infertility in women. Infertility is a devastating hardship. The medical community and the endometriosis patient community need to be aware of the pervasive ways endometriosis can impede conception. Patients need to be diagnosed and treated at an earlier age to try and boost future fertility. Fertility preserving treatments such as egg freezing also need to be covered by insurance companies for endometriosis patients as well as routinely recommended by doctors. As heartbreaking as it is to say, for me and my friends, it might be too late. But it is important for this information to get out there to help future generations of patients and to raise the standard of care for all.

To see Dr. Braverman’s presentation on Silent Endometriosis check out this link: //www.endofound.org//video/Jeffrey-Braverman-MD-Outsmarting-Endo/447.

Casey Berna is a patient of Dr. Seckin’s and an endometriosis and infertility counselor and advocate. To learn more about her story and her practice go to www.CaseyBerna.com. If you are a patient of Dr. Seckin’s and want to share your story please contact Casey at casey@drseckin.com.

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Patient Reviews

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  • Rebecca Black

    Fast forward 5 years to find out incidentally I had a failing kidney. My left kidney was only functioning at 18%. During this time, I was preparing all my documents to send to Dr. Seckin to review. However, with this new information I put everything on hold and went to a urologist. After a few months, no one could figure…

  • Monique Roberts

    I'll never stop praising Dr. Seckin and his team. He literally gave me back my life.

  • Erin Brehm

    I had a wonderful experience working with Dr. Seckin and his team before, during and after my surgery. I came to Dr. Seckin having already had laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis 5 years prior, with a different surgeon. My symptoms and pain had returned, making my life truly challenging and my menstrual cycle unbearable. Dr. Seckin was quick to validate my…

  • Anita Schillhorn

    I came to Dr. Seckin after years of dealing with endometriosis and doctors who didn't fully understand the disease. He quickly ascertained what needed to be done, laid out the options along with his recommendation and gave me the time to make the right decision for me. My surgery went without a hitch and I'm healing very well. He and…

  • Nicholette Sadé

    Dr. Seckin brought me back to life! I am now 3 weeks into my recovery after my laparoscopy surgery, and I feel like a new and improved woman! Being diagnosed with Endometriosis, then 25yrs old in 2015, and discovering the severity of my case being stage 4, made me devastated. Dr. Seckin's vast knowledge of the disease, sincere empathy, and…

  • Jason Curry

    My wife had her laparoscopic excision surgery to remove endometriosis with Dr. Seckin on Jan 30, 2014. She doesn't write online reviews so I'm writing this on her behalf. I accompanied her with each office visit she had. The staff--Lucy and Kim, are very friendly, warm and professional. Dr. Seckin was excellent in every capacity. He spent a lot of…

  • Liz Filippelli

    He is an awesome doctor who saved my daughters life from debilitating endometriosis..she knew instantly upon awaking from surgery that she was better..that wad May and no complaints only praises for Dr. Wonderful Seckin!!

  • Karen N

    I was diagnosed with Endometriosis at 19. I saw several Endometriosis "Specialists" since then, had a few laproscopic surgeries to "remove" the endometriosis and continued to be in pain. I had a hysterectomy in 2012 and was told this would stop the pain once and for all. No such luck! Tired of spending days in bed with a heating pad,…

  • Lauren Rodriguez

    I researched and found Dr. Seckin after dealing with years of doctors who couldn't help me or refused to go the extra mile for their patients. I have to say I am truly blessed to have found such a compassionate and talented doctor. He is exquisite with everything he does, and both his team at the office and surgical team…

  • Kellya Vespa

    Dr. Seckin is a very skilled surgeon. There are not many doctors like him that truly understand the effects of endometriosis. I am lucky to have found him. The staff is wonderful too.

  • Meg Connolly

    Dr. Seckin truly LOVES what he does and cares about his patients from the bottom of his heart. My life has already changed in 3 weeks and I couldn’t be more grateful. Should I ever need another operation for endometriosis, Dr. Seckin will be the one to do it. I recommend him to anyone I come across with similar problems…

  • Elisandra O

    Dr. Seckin is an amazing Doctor he is very compassionate, caring and he will be honest with you. He's been my doctor for 19yrs and I am so grateful to have someone taking care of me that knows what he is doing and knows the best way to treat each and every situation. I would definitely recommend him and his…