If you are a woman trying to conceive, one of your biggest challenges in fertility as you grow older is the suitability of your eggs. Egg production can be greatly affected by your age both in quality and in number. By the time you are in your late 30s or early 40s, you will probably have more poor quality eggs available than good quality eggs. The impact of poor quality eggs is reflected in the general decline of pregnancy rates as women age.
One of the first steps a woman should take when making the decision to conceive is to have Follicle (Follicular) Tracking carried out by a doctor or a qualified sonographer. This will help to identify two things; whether or not she is ovulating and, if she is, the scan will additionally pinpoint the exact time when the follicle ruptures and releases the egg. This information enables a couple to time intercourse in order to maximise their chances of conception.
What is Follicle Tracking?
Follicle Tracking involves a series of vaginal ultrasound scans, starting from day 9 to day 20 of your cycle. These scans allow you to observe the follicle(s) developing in your ovary. The scans are performed using a small plastic probe which is inserted in the vagina. The process is relatively painless.
The Process of Follicle Tracking
Initially, a base line scan is carried out to determine the overall health of the reproductive area and to check for any issues that may impede conception such as fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome or ovarian cysts.
During a normal cycle the egg develops within a follicle in the ovary. This follicle is a thin walled structure containing fluid along with the egg attached to its inner membrane. The follicle appears as a circular fluid-filled bubble on the screen and can be seen when it is about 7-8 mm in size. It grows at a rate of about 1-2 mm per day and is ready for ovulation when it measures within the correct range of 17-25 mm in diameter. During the tracking process, the number of developing follicles and their size are measured and charted as well as ovulation being noted if and when it occurs.
In conjunction with assessment of the follicles, the development of the lining of the womb is also recorded during Follicle Tracking. In order for a pregnancy to occur, the uterine lining must be receptive to a fertilised egg in order for the embryo to implant successfully. The Follicle Tracking process measures the appearance, development and thickness of the lining of the womb as the cycle progresses.
How do I know Ovulation has occurred?
Following ovulation, the follicle usually disappears from the scan picture completely or the walls of the follicle become irregular and collapsed. This is the best evidence that ovulation has occurred. Fluid can often be simultaneously detected in the abdomen behind the uterus. This is the follicular fluid that is released when the follicle ruptures.
What else can Follicle Tracking detect?
As well as general issues that may impede pregnancy, which will be identified during the base line scan, there are other problems that Follicle Tracking can detect, including:
- Follicles which do not grow to the correct size before rupturing
- Follicles which do not grow at all
- Follicles which do not rupture at the appropriate time
- The lining of the womb may not have thickened sufficiently to enable implantation of a fertilised egg.
Each of these aspects can be identified using Follicle Tracking, which gives you a much clearer view of what is happening, when it is happening and what, if anything, is going wrong.
How many scans per cycle will I need?
Usually in each cycle there will be between 4 and 6 scans, but this depends on the cycle. You can ovulate any time from day 6 to day 26 of your cycle and the base line scan will help to determine the initial size of the dominant follicle. Following a consultation between you, the sonographer and Karen, the timing of the next scan will be ascertained. As the cycle progresses, a very clear picture will develop of how the follicle is growing and if the lining of the womb is developing in conjunction with the follicle.
How long does the scan take?
Follicle Tracking takes between 5 and 10 minutes to perform. You will receive a written report which will help determine the required acupuncture treatment.
Who should have Follicle Tracking?
There are four main reasons to choose Follicle Tracking:
- If you don’t know when you are ovulating – ovulation can occur from day 6 to day 26 and while ovulation predictor sticks can work accurately for some women, they can also be up to 5 days out.
- If you are not sure you are ovulating at all – this can be very hard to detect without scanning as periods may seem normal.
- If you have had several early miscarriages – Follicle Tracking will be able to assess the womb lining, ensuring it is in the appropriate state to enable implantation to occur.
- If you are on Clomid – this drug is used to induce ovulation, to correct irregular ovulation, to increase egg production and to correct a condition known as luteal phase deficiency, where the lining of the womb does not sustain the pregnancy. Many doctors recommend that women on Clomid are monitored to ensure the ovaries and the lining are both responding normally.
How 5 Element Acupuncture helps
Any issues, which are detected during the Follicle Tracking process, can be treated with 5 Element acupuncture.
This includes issues that may arise following the base line scan:
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Ovarian cysts
In addition, 5 Element Acupuncture can also help in other ways, including:
- Increase the speed of growth for any follicles
- Enhance the preparation of the lining of the womb
- Increase the likelihood of implantation by decreasing stress hormones in the body.
- Increase progesterone levels in order to sustain the pregnancy after the embryo has implanted
How much does Follicle Tracking cost?
There are many practitioners offering Follicle Tracking throughout the country of Ireland. Karen’s practice has researched the various clinics offering this service and can make recommendations accordingly. She will discuss such options during your initial consultation. Prices range from €120 for 6 scans to €270 for 3 scans, depending on the clinic you choose.
All Karen’s acupuncture clients can avail of special discounts for Follicle Tracking.