Why “Reproductive Immunology?”

Did you know that it took 34 years for the U.S. Surgeon General to report on the dangers of smoking after the first correlation was established between cigarettes and lung cancer?

Thirty-four years! That is the entirety of my lifetime right there. That’s like finding out that cigarettes could be bad when Space Invaders came out, but waiting until the iPhone 5 to “officially” inform all those people who were smoking them. That’s nuts! And it should remind us that change takes time, especially when it comes to rocking an establishment.

If you’re not a science person, that’s OK. You don’t need to like science to understand the main point of this page, and this website. Here it is:

If you’ve been to a fertility specialist for infertility, miscarriage or IVF, chances are they specialize in Reproductive Endocrinology, Genetics, or Maternal-Fetal Medicine. But Reproductive Immunology is its own field and is still viewed as “experimental” by many doctors and insurance companies. In fact, not even the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recognizes the merits of Reproductive Immunology.

So how does this affect YOU?

For the woman who has struggled with infertility, miscarriage, or repeated failure with current treatments like in vitro fertilization, it may actually be very important that she knows this difference exists. If most fertility specialists are not giving credence to reproductive immunology, I believe they are treating women with outdated advice, then handing them a ticket to a dead-end. Space Invaders.

If you’ve been to a specialist who has left you with no answers, perhaps this blog can help you. Your doctor might have told you that they have followed every protocol and tested you for everything there is to test, and that there isn’t really anything they can do to stop you from miscarrying/being infertile/failing at IVF repeatedly. They might dismiss your case as “unexplainable” or “unlucky.” That’s what happened to me, and I later found out that it wasn’t the end of the road. I just had to find the right doctor to help me – one who wasn’t using ACOG protocols that were 11 years old.

What IS Reproductive Immunology?

Basically, reproductive immunology is the study of how the immune system affects fertility and pregnancy. There are several different ways that the mother’s immune system can malfunction and begin to work against her reproductive system. A reproductive immunologist tests for a wide range of factors not normally addressed by other reproductive specialists, then treats the woman with any number of drugs or therapies in order to correct the problems. (See the page titled “Resources” for a list of doctors and other information.)

Now, some readers might be thinking, “Well, my doctors already tested me for immune problems and ruled them out.”  That’s exactly what I said in the summer of 2011, after I miscarried for the third time.  My fertility specialists DID test me for immune issues.  Then they told me that nothing was wrong, and they sent me away empty-handed.  Unfortunately for the unknowing patient like me, ACOG guidelines recommend only a handful of immune tests that merely scrape the surface.  But a Reproductive Immunologist performs many more.  See if any of these tests look familiar to you:

  1. FOX P3 (CD4+/CD25+/Fox P3)
  2. RIP (modified)
  3. TH1/TH2 Cytokine Ratio
  4. NK Assay
  5. HLA Panel
  6. CBC with differential
  7. LAD
  8. T-cell Subset
  9. KIR Receptor

These are the blood tests that Dr. Braverman, a reproductive immunologist based in New York, ordered for me in August 2012.  I still couldn’t tell you what most of them mean, but he found a few key pieces of information that he’s using to come up with his immune treatment plan for me.  You can read a complete list of reproductive immunology tests here.

Infertility and repeated pregnancy loss can be very sad, lonely roads to walk.  I created this website because I was concerned that too many women might be stuck on that road like I was.  And how are my fellow females going to know they can get off that road if no one tells them?!  So, I shoved my previous specialist’s naysaying in a sack, and “Repro-Renegade” was born.  I hope that one day I can show the naysayers the advances that other doctors are making by taking a more proactive approach to fertility.  I hope that I’ll be healed so that we can add more children to our family.  I hope I can be just one voice standing up for something I believe in, helping others move forward, too.  I firmly believe that every human has good they can do by sharing their life with others.  This site is one place I can share mine.

photo credit: jollyboy

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3 thoughts on “Why “Reproductive Immunology?”

  1. Hi,

    I am very devastated right now because I am going through my second miscarriage. First was 10/08/12 (5 weeks) which was blighted and then now. We heard the heartbeat twice and was just coming in for a 12th week routine checkup last Saturday. Found out there was no more heartbeat. Fetus was only at 9.2 weeks. I’m just waiting to bleed and for my cervix to open before my DNC. I’m so devastated. My OB said I can easily get pregnant but thy need to test my blood and immune system to rule out any defect from these 2. She’s referring me to an immunologist. Do I need to also see an RE? I’ve been through a lot of procedures to be get ready for pregnancy. Had polyps removed and myomectomy in the last 3 years. The procedures got us pregnant but sustaining it is another issue. We’ve been through so many OBs and fertility doctors. We’ve been trying to conceive since 2010 and we’re turning 39 years old next year. I am losing hope:(

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  2. Oh, Angie, I am so very, very sorry. There are just no words… I know. I mourn with you.

    I guess it depends. Have you seen an RE yet? I don’t know what the immunologist will test you for. Is he/she a regular immunologist or do they specialize in fertility? The field of Reproductive Immunology is still considered “fringe,” I guess you could say. Not many doctors know about all the tests, and many doctors consider it experimental/unproven.

    I can’t possibly know what steps are best for you, but I’d encourage you to keep seeking, and give yourself some time to grieve before those feelings of hope come back. Your loss is real and don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t significant and devastating! When you feel up to it, I’d suggest checking out the Resource Page and getting connected with the RI support group on yahoo. LOTS of knowledgeable ladies on there. Shoot me an email at sara at reprorenegade.com if you ever want to chat again. Hugs to you.

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  3. Pingback: So many words, so few words | ReproRenegade

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