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What Is A Pulsatility Index, And Why Is It So Important For Fertility?

If you’re trying to get pregnant, you should care about your Pulsatility Index. What? One more thing to keep track of? By the way, what in tarnation is a Pulsatility Index?

A Pulsatility Index (PI) is a measurement of the blood flow through your arteries- specifically, the ones going to your ovaries and uterus. It’s measured using a doppler ultrasound. It’s not a test that is commonly performed at your fertility specialist’s office, and is used more often in a research setting. If the PI is significantly increased, it means blood flow through the arteries is impeded. So- take home message is that High PI=bad! Ovarian artery blood flow impedance could result in poor egg development or poor response to IVF follicle stimulating medications. If there is uterine blood flow impedance, you could have a thin uterine lining or simply one that is not able to support implantation. Studies suggest that ovarian blood flow impedance is also associated with a decreased pregnancy rate in IVF cycles as well as the need for higher dosages of medications during IVF (see this study).

How do we fix this, you ask? Electroacupuncture! I know this might sound a bit scary, but trust me- it’s not. Electroacupuncture simply means that the needles are connected to wires through which a gentle, barely noticeable current flows. If you’re fine with normal acupuncture, you’ll be fine with electroacupuncture. It feels like a slight buzzing or “pinging” at the needles. There are several studies which demonstrate electroacupuncture’s ability to reduce uterine and ovarian PI:

  1. Reduction of Blood Flow Impedance In The Uterine Arteries Of Infertile Women With Electro-acupuncture: Stener- Victorin, E, et al Hum Reprod 1996: 11:1314-1317.  This study demonstrated that after 8 acupuncture treatments, blood flow to the uterus was significantly increased.
  2. Ovarian Blood Flow Responses To Electro-acupuncture Stimulation At Different Frequencies And Intensities In Anesthetized Rats: Stener-Victorin, E et al Autonomic Neuroscience 2003, Vol 108, Issues 1-2, pg 50-55. This study demonstrated that electro-acupuncture significantly increased blood flow to the ovaries of rats.
  3. Electroacupuncture Reduces Uterine Artery Blood Flow Impedance In Infertile Women: Ming H et al, 2009 Vol 48, Issue 2, Pg 148-151. This is another study in which electro-acupuncture increased blood flow to the uterus compared to that of a control group. These patients were undergoing IVF cycles and those who underwent electro-acupuncture had higher numbers of eggs retrieved, although the pregnancy rates did not differ significantly.

I highly recommend seeking out an acupuncturist with experience using electro-acupuncture and who has knowledge of these three studies. If you have questions regarding acupuncture during an IVF cycle or for fertility in general, please feel free to post in the comments section!

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