Follicle Stimulating Hormone

Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is produced by the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus releases a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) which in turn influences the production of FSH.

The Role Of FSH in Men and Women

In women, FSH plays a significant part in the control of the menstrual cycle and the production of eggs in the ovaries. The amount of FSH varies throughout a woman's menstrual cycle; however, it is highest just before ovulation. In men, FSH helps to control the production of sperm and, unlike in women, the levels of FSH in men remain constant.

If a couple is unable to conceive a pregnancy, the levels of FSH as well as other hormones including luteinizing hormone, estrogen, and progesterone, are measured in both the man and woman to help determine why they are infertile. By measuring the levels of FSH, doctors are able to determine whether the sex organs of both the man and woman are functioning properly.

What an FSH Test Can Reveal

A follicle-stimulating hormone test may be done in order to help find the cause of infertility by evaluating a woman's egg supply or a man's low sperm count. A FSH test can reveal a number of things which may affect fertility such as the loss of ovarian function and polycystic ovarian syndrome in the case of high FSH values, and whether a woman is producing eggs at all in the case of low FSH levels.

In men, high FSH levels may indicate Klinefelter syndrome or malfunctioning testicles. In both men and women, low levels of FSH may indicate the malfunction of the hypothalamus or pituitary gland, interference by a tumor in the brain's ability to control FSH production, stress or starvation.

The Use of FSH in IVF

In the case of infertility in a woman, the physician may suggest injections of FSH to stimulate production of follicles which will later become eggs. When FSH is administered by injection, it stimulates the recruitment and development of follicles - egg production. Numerous eggs are required in IVF (in vitro fertilization) treatments and some are immature and cannot be fertilized. When FSH is used to induce ovulation, the woman is carefully monitored by ultrasound, physical examination and estradiol measurement. Certain drugs which control the time of ovulation are given as well. FSH should be administered by a trained professional only as there can be serious side effects if the process is not monitored properly and levels adjusted carefully.

A "Natural" Product

FSH, when first used in IVF treatments, was considered to be a natural product since it was obtained from the urine of post-menopausal women. The downside to this product was that it also contained luteinizing hormone which was considered as a taint in the FSH. Recent FSH products have been genetically developed and an injection can be given subcutaneously under the skin rather than intramuscularly as the original product was given.

Careful Monitoring A Must

Medical professionals are varied in their opinions of protocols for the administration of FSH. Often reproductive endocrinologists use a mix of protocols to help in the fertility process, but the major factor in the use of FSH is proper monitoring by a specialist. Correct doses are critical to the enhancement of follicular development and ovulation when addressing infertility.


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