What is USG FOLLICULAR STUDY?
Follicular monitoring or follicular study is a vital component of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) assessment and timing. It basically employs a simple technique for assessing ovarian follicles at regular intervals and documenting the pathway to ovulation.
The journey to ovulation begins during the late luteal phase of the prior menstrual cycle when certain 2-5 mm sized healthy follicles form a population, from which dominant follicles are to be selected for the next cycle This process is called 'recruitment'. A usual number of such follicles may be 3-11, which goes on decreasing with advancing age.
During Day 1-5 of the menstrual cycle, a second process of 'follicular selection' begins, when among all recruited follicles, certain growing follicles of size 5-10 mm are selected, while the rest of the follicles regress or become atretic.
During Day 5-7 of the menstrual cycle, a process of 'dominance' begins, when a certain follicle of 10 mm size takes control and becomes dominant. This also suppresses the growth of the rest of the selected follicles, and in a way, is destined to ovulate. This follicle starts growing at a rate of 2-3 mm a day and reaches 17-27 mm size just prior to ovulation. One important learning point in this regard is, "largest follicle on day 3 of the cycle, may or may not be a dominant follicle in the end. Process of dominance begins late when suddenly a certain underdog follicle starts growing faster and suppresses others to become dominant".
Almost nearing ovulation, rapid follicle growth takes place, and the follicle starts protruding from the ovarian cortex, attains a crenated border, and it literally explodes to release the ovum, along with some antral fluid.
Ultrasound monitoring: general
Transvaginal ultrasound is preferred and usually a mandatory modality for monitoring follicles. Ultrasound monitoring may begin on day 3 of the cycle, to assess a baseline size, as well as exclude if any cyst remains from previous hyperstimulation or otherwise. It's important to count the number of existing follicles, document two/three dimensions of each follicle, and also comment on shape (round/oval/rectangular/triangular), echogenicity (echogenic/hypoechoic/anechoic), and antral edges (smooth/intermediate/rough) if possible.
As the study progresses on day 7, we should start guessing the ovulatory dominant follicle i.e. dominant follicle which is destined to ovulate. Basically, there are three varieties of eligible follicles:
- atretic dominant follicle: This follicle is usually the largest follicle on day 3, but it is not destined to ovulate. It has an irregular shape, rough edges, and maybe a little echogenic.
- ovulatory dominant follicle: This follicle is typically round, with smooth borders, and usually hypoechoic.
- anovulatory-luteinizing dominant follicle: This dominant follicle grows at a good pace but fails to ovulate, and later becomes a cyst or luteinizes. These are also round and smooth, however anechoic. This subtle recognition of the echogenicity difference between hypoechoic and anechoic follicles can help determine whether a follicle is growing to ovulate.
Once the follicle reaches 16 mm size, daily monitoring of the follicle is recommended.
The next step is documentation of ovulation. Ovulation is sonographically determined by the following sonographic signs:
- follicle suddenly disappears or regresses in size
- irregular margins
- intra-follicular echoes. Follicle suddenly becomes more echogenic
- free fluid in the pouch of Douglas
- increased perifollicular blood flow velocities, on doppler
Ultrasound monitoring in induced cycles, and predicting the success of IVF
Most of the IVF studies are conducted after induction of ovaries with help of ovulation-inducing agents like Clomiphene citrate. In such an induced cycle, primary determinants of success are:
- ovarian volume
- antral follicle number
- ovarian stromal blood flow
is easy to measure, although not a good predictor of IVF outcome. Now, it is documented, that a low ovarian volume does not always lead to an anovulatory cycle. But, it is important to recognize a polycystic ovarian pattern and differentiate it from post-induction multicystic ovaries. Follicles arranged in the periphery forming a 'necklace sign', echogenic stroma, and more than 10 follicles of less than 9 mm size, signify a polycystic pattern in the induced cycle. While, follicles in the center as well as the periphery, are seen in normal induced multicystic ovaries.
Antral follicle number
of less than three, usually signifies the possible failure of assisted reproductive therapy (ART).
Ovarian stromal blood flow
has been recommended as a good predictor of ART success. Increased peak systolic velocity (>10 cm/sec) is one of such parameters which has been advocated.
When to administer gonadotropins?
Although, it is a matter of choice, based on the experience of individual IVF specialists, there are certain parameters that may be considered. The minimal criteria suggested are a follicle size of at least 15 mm, and a serum estradiol level of 0.49 nmol/L. Better prospects are at follicle size of 18 mm, and serum estradiol level of 0.91 nmol/L.
Random hCG administration should be avoided 3, to prevent a risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).