LABORATORY TESTS TO EVALUATE TUBULAR FUNCTION

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Monday, 28 August 2017 01:46
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Tests to Assess Proximal Tubular Function
 
Renal tubules efficiently reabsorb 99% of the glomerular filtrate to conserve the essential substances like glucose, amino acids, and water.
 
1. Glycosuria: In renal glycosuria, glucose is excreted in urine, while blood glucose level is normal. This is because of a specific tubular lesion which leads to impairment of glucose reabsorption. Renal glycosuria is a benign condition. Glycosuria can also occur in Fanconi syndrome.
 
2. Generalized aminoaciduria: In proximal renal tubular dysfunction, many amino acids are excreted in urine due to defective tubular reabsorption.
 
3. Tubular proteinuria (Low molecular weight proteinuria): Normally, low molecular weight proteins2 –microglobulin, retinol-binding protein, lysozyme, and α1 –microglobulin) are freely filtered by glomeruli and are completely reabsorbed by proximal renal tubules. With tubular damage, these low molecular weight proteins are excreted in urine and can be detected by urine protein electrophoresis. Increased amounts of these proteins in urine are indicative of renal tubular damage.
 
4. Urinary concentration of sodium: If both BUN and serum creatinine are acutely increased, it is necessary to distinguish between prerenal azotemia (renal underperfusion) and acute tubular necrosis. In prerenal azotemia, renal tubules are functioning normally and reabsorb sodium, while in acute tubular necrosis, tubular function is impaired and sodium absorption is decreased. Therefore, in prerenal azotemia, urinay sodium concentration is < 20 mEq/L while in acute tubular necrosis, it is > 20 mEq/L.
 
5. Fractional excretion of sodium (FENa): Measurement of urinary sodium concentration is affected by urine volume and can produce misleading results. Therefore, to avoid this, fractional excretion of sodium is calculated. This refers to the percentage of filtered sodium that has been absorbed and percentage that has been excreted. Measurement of fractional sodium excretion is a better indicator of tubular absorption of sodium than quantitation of urine sodium alone.
 
This test is indicated in acute renal failure. In oliguric patients, this is the most reliable means of early distinction between pre-renal failure and renal failure due to acute tubular necrosis. It is calculated from the following formula:
 
 
(Urine sodium × Plasma creatinine) × 100%
(Plasma sodium × Urine creatinine)
 
 
In pre-renal failure this ratio is less than 1%, and in acute tubular necrosis it is more than 1%. In pre-renal failure (due to reduced renal perfusion), aldosterone secretion is stimulated which causes maximal sodium conservation by the tubules and the ratio is less than 1%. In acute tubular necrosis, maximum sodium reabsorption is not possible due to tubular cell injury and consequently the ratio will be more than 1%. Values above 3% are strongly suggestive of acute tubular necrosis.
 
Tests to Assess Distal Tubular Function
 
1. Urine specific gravity: Normal specific gravity is 1.003 to 1.030. It depends on state of hydration and fluid intake.
 
  1. Causes of increased specific gravity:
    a. Reduced renal perfusion (with preservation of concentrating ability of tubules),
    b. Proteinuria,
    c. Glycosuria,
    d. Glomerulonephritis.
    e. Urinary tract obstruction.
  2. Causes of reduced specific gravity:
    a. Diabetes insipidus
    b. Chronic renal failure
    c. Impaired concentrating ability due to diseases of tubules.
 
As a test of renal function, it gives information about the ability of renal tubules to concentrate the glomerular filtrate. This concentrating ability is lost in diseases of renal tubules.
 
Fixed specific gravity of 1.010, which cannot be lowered or increased by increasing or decreasing the fluid intake respectively, is an indication of chronic renal failure.
 
2. Urine osmolality: The most commonly employed test to evaluate tubular function is measurement of urine/plasma osmolality. This is the most sensitive method for determination of ability of concentration. Osmolality measures number of dissolved particles in a solution. Specific gravity, on the other hand, is the ratio of mass of a solution to the mass of water i.e. it measures total mass of solute. Specific gravity depends on both the number and the nature of dissolved particles while osmolality is exact number of solute particles in a solution. Specific gravity measurement can be affected by the presence of solutes of large molecular weight like proteins and glucose, while osmolality is not. Therefore measurement of osmolality is preferred.
 
When solutes are dissolved in a solvent, certain changes take place like lowering of freezing point, increase in boiling point, decrease in vapor pressure, or increase of osmotic pressure of the solvent. These properties are made use of in measuring osmolality by an instrument called as osmometer.
 
Osmolality is expressed as milliOsmol/kg of water.
 
Urine/plasma osmolality ratio is helpful in distinguishing pre-renal azotemia (in which ratio is higher) from acute renal failure due to acute tubular necrosis (in which ratio is lower). If urine and plasma osmolality are almost similar, then there is defective tubular reabsorption of water.
 
3. Water deprivation test: If the value of baseline osmolality of urine is inconclusive, then water deprivation test is performed. In this test, water intake is restricted for a specified period of time followed by measurement of specific gravity or osmolality. Normally, urine osmolality should rise in response to water deprivation. If it fails to rise, then desmopressin is administered to differentiate between central diabetes insipidus and nephrogenic diabetes insipidus. Urinary concentration ability is corrected after administration of desmopressin in central diabetes insipidus, but not in nephrogenic diabetes insipidus.
 
If urine osmolality is > 800 mOsm/kg of water or specific gravity is ≥1.025 following dehydration, concentrating ability of renal tubules is normal. However, normal result does not rule out presence of renal disease.
False result will be obtained if the patient is on low-salt, low-protein diet or is suffering from major electrolyte and water disturbance.
 
4. Water loading antidiuretic hormone suppression test: This test assesses the capacity of the kidney to make urine dilute after water loading.
 
After overnight fast, patient empties the bladder and drinks 20 ml/kg of water in 15-30 minutes. The urine is collected at hourly intervals for the next 4 hours for measurements of urine volume, specific gravity, and osmolality. Plasma levels of antidiuretic hormone and serum osmolality should be measured at hourly intervals.
 
Normally, more than 90% of water should be excreted in 4 hours. The specific gravity should fall to 1.003 and osmolality should fall to < 100 mOsm/kg. Plasma level of antidiuretic hormone should be appropriate for serum osmolality. In renal function impairment, urine volume is reduced (<80% of fluid intake is excreted) and specific gravity and osmolality fail to decrease. The test is also impaired in adrenocortical insufficiency, malabsorption, obesity, ascites, congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, and dehydration.
 
This test is not advisable in patients with cardiac failure or kidney disease. If there is failure to excrete water load, fatal hyponatremia can occur.
 
5. Ammonium chloride loading test (Acid load test): Diagnosis of renal tubular acidosis is usually considered after excluding other causes of metabolic acidosis. This test is considered as a ‘gold standard’ for the diagnosis of distal or type 1 renal tubular acidosis. Urine pH and plasma bicarbonate are measured after overnight fasting. If pH is less than 5.4, acidifying ability of renal tubules is normal. If pH is greater than 5.4 and plasma bicarbonate is low, diagnosis of renal tubular acidosis is confirmed. In both the above cases, further testing need not be performed. In all other cases in which neither of above results is obtained, further testing is carried out. Patient is given ammonium chloride orally (0.1 gm/kg) over 1 hour after overnight fast and urine samples are collected hourly for next 6-8 hours. Ammonium ion dissociates into H+ and NH3. Ammonium chloride makes blood acidic. If pH is less than 5.4 in any one of the samples, acidifying ability of the distal tubules is normal.

Additional Info

  • Reference(s):
    • Gaw A, Murphy MJ, Cowan RA, O’Reilly DSJ, Stewart MJ, Shepherd J. Clinical Biochemistry: An Illustrated Colour Text (3rd Ed). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone 2004.
    • Johnson CA, Levey AS, Coresh J, Levin A, Lau J, Eknoyan G. Clinical practice guidelines for chronic kidney disease in adults: Part II. Glomerular filtration rate, proteinuria, and other markers Am Fam Physician 2004;70:1091-7.
    • Stevens LA, Coresh J, Green T, Levey AS. Assessing kidney function-measured and estimated glomerular filtration rate. N Engl J Med 2006;354:2473-83.
    • Stevens LA, Levey AS. Measurement of kidney function. Med Clin N Am 2005;89:457-73.
Last modified on Monday, 28 August 2017 02:24
Dayyal Dg.

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  • TOTAL THYROXINE (T4)
    Total serum thyroxine includes both free and protein-bound thyroxine and is usually measured by competitive immunoassay. Normal level in adults is 5.0-12.0 μg/dl.
     
    Test for total thyroxine or free thyroxine is usually combined with TSH measurement and together they give the best assessment of thyroid function.
     
    Causes of Increased Total T4
     
    1. Hyperthyroidism: Elevation of both T4 and T3 values along with decrease of TSH are indicative of primary hyperthyroidism.
    2. Increased thyroxine-binding globulin: If concentration of TBG increases, free hormone level falls, release of TSH from pituitary is stimulated, and free hormone concentration is restored to normal. Reverse occurs if concentration of binding proteins falls. In either case, level of free hormones remains normal, while concentration of total hormone is altered. Therefore, estimation of only total T4 concentration can cause misinterpretation of results in situations that alter concentration of TBG.
    3. Factitious hyperthyroidism
    4. Pituitary TSH-secreting tumor.
     
    Causes of Decreased Total T4
     
    1. Primary hypothyroidism: The combination of decreased T4 and elevated TSH are indicative of primary hypothyroidism.
    2. Secondary or pituitary hypothyroidism
    3. Tertiary or hypothalamic hypothyroidism
    4. Hypoproteinaemia, e.g. nephrotic syndrome
    5. Drugs: oestrogen, danazol
    6. Severe non-thyroidal illness.
     
    Free Thyroxine (FT4)
     
    FT4 comprises of only a small fraction of total T4, is unbound to proteins, and is the metabolically active form of the hormone. It constitutes about 0.05% of total T4. Normal range is 0.7 to 1.9 ng/dl. Free hormone concentrations (FT4 and FT3) correlate better with metabolic state than total hormone levels (since they are not affected by changes in TBG concentrations).
     
    Measurement of FT4 is helpful in those situations in which total T4 level is likely to be altered due to alteration in TBG level (e.g. pregnancy, oral contraceptives, nephrotic syndrome).
     
    Total and Free Triiodothyronine (T3)
     
    Uses
     
    1. Diagnosis of T3 thyrotoxicosis: Hyperthyroidism with low TSH and elevated T3, and normal T4/FT4 is termed T3 thyrotoxicosis.
    2. Early diagnosis of hyperthyroidism: In early stage of hyperthyroidism, total T4 and free T4 levels are normal, but T3 is elevated.
     
    A low T3 level is not useful for diagnosis of hypothyroidism since it is observed in about 25% of normal individuals.
     
    For routine assessment of thyroid function, TSH and T4 are measured. T3 is not routinely estimated because normal plasma levels are very low.
     
    Normal T3 level is 80-180 ng/dl.
     
    Free T3: Measurement of free T3 gives true values in patients with altered serum protein levels (like pregnancy, intake of estrogens or oral contraceptives, and nephrotic syndrome). It represents 0.5% of total T3.
     
    Thyrotropin Releasing Hormone (TRH) Stimulation Test
     
    Uses
     
    1. Confirmation of diagnosis of secondary hypothyroidism
    2. Evaluation of suspected hypothalamic disease
    3. Suspected hyperthyroidism
     
    This test is not much used nowadays due to the availability of sensitive TSH assays.
     
    Procedure
     
    • A baseline blood sample is collected for estimation of basal serum TSH level.
    • TRH is injected intravenously (200 or 500 μg) followed by measurement of serum TSH at 20 and 60 minutes.
     
    Interpretation
     
    1. Normal response: A rise of TSH > 2 mU/L at 20 minutes, and a small decline at 60 minutes.
    2. Exaggerated response: A further significant rise in already elevated TSH level at 20 minutes followed by a slight decrease at 60 minutes; occurs in primary hypothyroidism.
    3. Flat response: There is no response; occurs in secondary (pituitary) hypothyroidism.
    4. Delayed response: TSH is higher at 60 minutes as compared to its level at 20 minutes; seen in tertiary (hypothalamic) hypothyroidism.
     
    Antithyroid Antibodies
     
    Box 864.1 Thyroid autoantibodies
     
    • Useful for diagnosis and monitoring of autoimmune thyroid diseases.
    • Antimicrosomal or antithyroid peroxidase antibodies: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
    • Anti-TSH receptor antibodies: Graves’ disease
    Various autoantibodies (TSH receptor, antimicrosomal, and antithyroglobulin) are detected in thyroid disorders like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease. Antimicrosomal (also called as thyroid peroxidase) and anti-thyroglobulin antibodies are observed in almost all patients with Hashimoto’s disease. TSH receptor antibodies (TRAb) are mainly tested in Graves’ disease to predict the outcome after treatment (Box 864.1).
     
    Radioactive Iodine Uptake (RAIU) Test
     
    This is a direct test that assesses the trapping of iodide by thyroid gland (through the iodine symporters or pumps in follicular cells) for thyroid hormone synthesis. Patient is administered a tracer dose of radioactive iodine (131I or 123I) orally. This is followed by measurement of amount of radioactivity over the thyroid gland at 2 to 6 hours and again at 24 hours. RAIU correlates directly with the functional activity of the thyroid gland. Normal RAIU is about 10-30% of administered dose at 24 hours, but varies according to the geographic location due to differences in dietary intake.
     
    Causes of Increased Uptake
     
    • Hyperthyroidism due to Graves’ disease, toxic multinodular goiter, toxic adenoma, TSH-secreting tumor.
     
    Causes of Decreased Uptake
     
    • Hyperthyroidism due to administration of thyroid hormone, factitious hyperthyroidism, subacute thyroiditis.
     
    Uses
     
    RAIU is most helpful in differential diagnosis of hyperthyroidism by separating causes into those due to increased uptake and due to decreased uptake.
     
    Thyroid Scintiscanning
     
    An isotope (99mTc-pertechnetate) is administered and a gamma counter assesses its distribution within the thyroid gland.
     
    Interpretation
     
    • Differential diagnosis of high RAIU thyrotoxicosis:
      – Graves’ disease: Uniform or diffuse increase in uptake
      – Toxic multinodular goiter: Multiple discrete areas of increased uptake
      – Adenoma: Single area of increased uptake
    • Evaluation of a solitary thyroid nodule:
      – ‘Hot’ nodule: Hyperfunctioning
      – ‘Cold’ nodule: Non-functioning; about 20% cases are malignant.
     
    Interpretation of thyroid function tests is shown in Table 164.1.
     
    Table 864.1 Interpretation of thyroid function tests
    Test results Interpretations
    1. TSH Normal, FT4 Normal Euthyroid
    2. Low TSH, Low FT4 Secondary hypothyroidism
    3. High TSH, Normal FT4 Subclinical hypothyroidism
    4. High TSH, Low FT4 Primary hypothyroidism
    5. Low TSH, Normal FT4, Normal FT3 Subclinical hyperthyroidism
    6. Low TSH, Normal FT4, High FT3 T3 toxicosis
    7. Low TSH, High FT4 Primary hyperthyroidism
     
    Neonatal Screening for Hypothyroidism
     
    Thyroid hormone deficiency during neonatal period can cause severe mental retardation (cretinism) that can be prevented by early detection and treatment. Estimation of TSH is done on dry blood spots on filter paper or cord serum between 3rd to 5th days of life. Elevated TSH is diagnostic of hypothyroidism. In infants with confirmed hypothyroidism, RAIU (123I) scan should be done to distinguish between thyroid agenesis and dyshormonogenesis.
  • DISORDERS OF THYROID
    Box 863.1 Terminology in thyroid disorders
    • Primary hyper-/hypothyroidism: Increased or decreased function of thyroid gland due to disease of thyroid itself and not due to increased or decreased levels of TRH or TSH.
    • Secondary hyper-/hypothyroidism: Increased or decreased function of thyroid gland due to increased or decreased levels of TSH.
    • Tertiary hypothyroidism: Decreased function of thyroid gland due to decreased function of hypothalamus.
    • Subclinical thyroid disease: A condition with abnormality of thyroid hormone levels in blood but without specific clinical manifestations of thyroid disease and without any history of thyroid dysfunction or therapy.
    • Subclinical hyperthyroidism: A condition with normal thyroid hormone levels but with low or undetectable TSH level.
    • Subclinical hypothyroidism: A condition with normal thyroxine and triiodothyronine level along with mildly elevated TSH level.
    Among the endocrine disorders, disorders of thyroid are common and are only next in frequency to diabetes mellitus. They are more common in women than in men. Functional thyroid disorders can be divided into two types depending on activity of the thyroid gland: hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormones), and hyperthyroidism (excess thyroid hormones). Any enlargement of thyroid gland is called as a goiter. Terminology related to thyroid disorders is shown in Box 863.1.
     
    Hyperthyroidism
     
    Hyperthyroidism is a condition caused by excessive secretion of thyroid hormone. Causes of hyperthyroidism are listed in Table 863.1.
     
    Table 863.1 Causes of hyperthyroidism
    1. Graves’ disease (Diffuse toxic goiter)
    2. Toxicity in multinodular goiter
    3. Toxicity in adenoma
    4. Subacute thyroiditis
    5. TSH-secreting pituitary adenoma (secondary hyperthyroidism)
    6. Trophoblastic tumours that secrete TSH-like hormone: choriocarcinoma, hydatidiform mole
    7. Factitious hyperthyroidism
     
    Clinical Characteristics
     
    Clinical characteristics of hyperthyroidism are nervousness, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, fine tremors; weight loss despite normal or increased appetite; heat intolerance; increased sweating; dyspnea on exertion; amenorrhea and infertility; palpitations, tachycardia, cardiac arrhythmias, heart failure (especially in elderly); and muscle weakness, proximal myopathy, and osteoporosis (especially in elderly).
     
    The triad of Graves’ disease consists of hyperthyroidism, ophthalmopathy (exophthalmos, lid retraction, lid lag, corneal ulceration, impaired eye muscle function), and dermopathy (pretibial myxoedema).
     
    Box 863.2 Thyroid function tests in hyperthyroidism
    • Thyrotoxicosis:
      Serum TSH low or undetectable
      – Raised total T4 and free T4.
    • T3 toxicosis:
      – Serum TSH undetectable
      – Normal total T4 and free T4
      – Raised T3
    Laboratory Features
     
    In most patients, free serum T3 and T4 are elevated. In T3 thyrotoxicosis (5% cases of thyrotoxicosis), serum T4 levels are normal while T3 is elevated. Serum TSH is low or undetectable (< 0.1 mU/L) (Box 863.2).
     
    Undetectable or low serum TSH along with normal levels of T3 and T4 is called as subclinical hyperthyroidism; subtle signs and symptoms of thyrotoxicosis may or may not be present. Subclinical hyperthyroidism is associated with risk of atrial fibrillation, osteoporosis, and progression to overt thyroid disease.
     
    Features of primary and secondary hyperthyroidism are compared in Table 863.2.
     
    Table 863.2 Differences between primary and secondary hyperthyroidism
    Parameter Primary hyperthyroidism Secondary hyperthyroidism
    1. Serum TSH Low Normal or high
    2. Serum free thyroxine High High
    3. TSH receptor antibodies May be positive Negative
    4. Causes Graves’ disease, toxic multinodular goiter, toxic adenoma Pituitary adenoma
     
    Evaluation of hyperthyroidism is presented in Figure 863.1.
     
    Figure 863.1 Evaluation of hyperthyroidism
    Figure 863.1 Evaluation of hyperthyroidism. TSH: thyroid stimulating hormone; FT4: free T4; FT3: free T3; TRAb: TSH receptor antibody; TRH: Thyrotropin releasing hormone
     
    Hypothyroidism
     
    Hypothyroidism is a condition caused by deficiency of thyroid hormones. Causes of hypothyroidism are listed in Table 863.3. Primary hypothyroidism results from deficient thyroid hormone biosynthesis that is not due to disorders of hypothalamus or pituitary. Secondary hypothyroidism results from deficient secretion of TSH from pituitary. Deficient or loss of secretion of thyro-tropin releasing hormone from hypothalamus results in tertiary hypothyroidism. Secondary and tertiary hypothyroidism are much less common than primary. Plasma TSH is high in primary and low in secondary and tertiary hypothyroidism. Differences between primary and secondary hypothyroidism are shown in Table 863.4.
     
    Table 863.3 Causes of hypothyroidism 
    1. Primary hypothyroidism (Increased TSH)
      • Iodine deficiency
      • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
      Exogenous goitrogens
      • Iatrogenic: surgery, drugs, radiation
    2. Secondary hypothyroidism (Low TSH): Diseases of pituitary
    3. Tertiary hypothyroidism (Low TSH, Low TRH): Diseases of hypothalamus
     
    Table 863.4 Differences between primary and secondary hypothyroidism
    Parameter Primary hypothyroidism Secondary hypothyroidism
    1. Cause Hashimoto’s thyroiditis Pituitary disease
    2. Serum TSH High Low
    3. Thyrotropin releasing hormone stimulation test Exaggerated response No response
    4. Antimicrosomal antibodies Present Absent
     
    Box 863.3 Thyroid function tests in hypothyroidism
    • Primary hypothyroidism
      – Serum TSH: Increased (proportional to degree of hypofunction)
      – Free T4: Decreased
      – TRH stimulation test: Exaggerated response
    • Secondary hypothyroidism
      – Serum TSH: Decreased
      – Free T4: Decreased
      – TRH stimulation test: Absent response
    • Tertiary hypothyroidism
      – Serum TSH: Decreased
      – FT4: Decreased
      – TRH stimulation test: Delayed response
    Clinical features of primary hypothyroidism are: lethargy, mild depression, disturbances in menstruation, weight gain, cold intolerance, dry skin, myopathy, constipation, and firm and lobulated thyroid gland (in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis).
     
    In severe cases, myxoedema coma (an advanced stage with stupor, hypoventilation, and hypothermia) can occur.
     
    Laboratory Features
     
    Laboratory features in hypothyroidism are shown in Box 863.3.
     
    Normal serum thyroxine (T4 and FT4) coupled with a moderately raised TSH (>10 mU/L) is referred to as subclinical hypothyroidism. It is associated with bad obstetrical outcome, poor cognitive development in children, and high risk of hypercholesterolemia and progression to overt hypothyroidism.
     
    Evaluation of hypothyroidism is presented in Figure 863.2
     
    Figure 863.2 Evaluation of hypothyroidism
    Figure 863.2 Evaluation of hypothyroidism. TSH: thyroid stimulating hormone; FT4: free T4; TRH: Thyrotropin releasing hormone
  • FEMALE INFERTILITY: CAUSES AND INVESTIGATIONS
    The ovaries are the sites of production of female gametes or ova by the process of oogenesis. The ova are released by the process of ovulation in a cyclical manner at regular intervals. Ovary contains numerous follicles that contain ova in various stages of development. During each menstrual cycle, up to 20 primordial follicles are activated for maturation; however, only one follicle becomes fully mature; this dominant follicle ruptures to release the secondary oocyte from the ovary. Maturation of the follicle is stimulated by follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) secreted by anterior pituitary (Figure 862.1). Maturing follicle secretes estrogen that causes proliferation of endometrium of the uterus (proliferative phase). Follicular cells also secrete inhibin which regulates release of FSH by the anterior pituitary. Fall in FSH level is followed by secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH) by the anterior pituitary (LH surge). This causes follicle to rupture and the ovum is expelled into the peritoneal cavity near the fimbrial end of the fallopian tube. The fallopian tubes conduct ova from the ovaries to the uterus. Fertilization of ovum by the sperm occurs in the fallopian tube.
     
    Figure 862.1 The hypothalamus pituitary ovarian axis
    Figure 862.1 The hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian axis 
     
    The ovum consists of the secondary oocyte, zona pellucida and corona radiata. The ruptured follicle in the ovary collapses and fills with blood clot (corpus luteum). LH converts granulose cells in the follicle to lutein cells which begin to secrete progesterone. Progesterone stimulates secretion from the endometrial glands (secretory phase) that were earlier under the influence of estrogen. Rising progesterone levels inhibit LH production from the anterior pituitary. Without LH, the corpus luteum regresses and becomes functionless corpus albicans. After regression of corpus luteum, production of estrogen and progesterone stops and endometrium collapses, causing onset of menstruation. If the ovum is fertilized and implanted in the uterine wall, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is secreted by the developing placenta into the maternal circulation. Human chorionic gonadotropin maintains the corpus luteum for secetion of estrogen and progesterone till 12th week of pregnancy. After 12th week, corpus luteum regresses to corpus albicans and the function of synthesis of estrogen and progesterone is taken over by placenta till parturition.
     
    The average duration of the normal menstrual cycle is 28 days. Ovulation occurs around 14th day of the cycle. The time interval between ovulation and menstruation is called as luteal phase and is fairly constant (14 days) (Figure 862.2).
     
    Figure 862.2 Normal menstrual cycle
    Figure 862.2 Normal menstrual cycle
     
    Causes of Female Infertility
     
    Causes of female infertility are shown in Table 862.1.
     
    Table 862.1 Causes of female infertility
    1. Hypothalamic-pituitary dysfunction:
    • Hypothalamic causes
      – Excessive exercise
      – Excess stress
      – Low weight
      – Kallman’s syndrome
      Idiopathic
    • Pituitary causes
      – Hyperprolactinemia
      Hypopituitarism (Sheehan’s syndrome, Simmond’s disease)
      – Craniopharyngioma
      – Cerebral irradiation
     2. Ovarian dysfunction:
    • Polycystic ovarian disease (Stein-Leventhal syndrome)
    • Luteinized unruptured follicle
    • Turner’s syndrome
    • Radiation or chemotherapy
    • Surgical removal of ovaries
    • Idiopathic
     3. Dysfunction in passages:
    • Fallopian tubes
      Infections: Tuberculosis, gonorrhea, Chlamydia
      – Previous surgery (e.g. laparotomy)
      – Tubectomy
      Congenital hypoplasia, non-canalization
      Endometriosis
    • Uterus
      – Uterine malformations
      – Asherman’s syndrome
      – Tuberculous endometritis
      Fibroid
    • Cervix: Sperm antibodies
    • Vagina: Septum
     4. Dysfunction of sexual act: Dyspareunia
     
    Investigations
     
    Evaluation of female infertility is shown in Figure 862.3.
     
    Figure 862.3 Evaluation of female infertility
    Figure 862.3 Evaluation of female infertility. FSH: Follicle stimulating hormone; LH: Luteinizing hormone; DHEA-S: Dihydroepiandrosterone; TSH: Thyroid stimulating hormone; ↑ : Increased; ↓ : Decreased
     
    Tests for Ovulation
     
    Most common cause of female infertility is anovulation.
     
    1. Regular cycles, mastalgia, and laparoscopic direct visualization of corpus luteum indicate ovulatory cycles. Anovulatory cycles are clinically characterized by amenorrhea, oligomenorrhea, or irregular menstruation. However, apparently regular cycles may be associated with anovulation.
    2. Endometrial biopsy: Endometrial biopsy is done during premenstrual period (21st-23rd day of the cycle). The secretory endometrium during the later half of the cycle is an evidence of ovulation.
    3. Ultrasonography (USG): Serial ultrasonography is done from 10th day of the cycle and the size of the dominant follicle is measured. Size >18 mm is indicative of imminent ovulation. Collapse of the follicle with presence of few ml of fluid in the pouch of Douglas is suggestive of ovulation. USG also is helpful for treatment (i.e. timing of coitus or of intrauterine insemination) and diagnosis of luteinized unruptured follicle (absence of collapse of dominant follicle). Transvaginal USG is more sensitive than abdominal USG.
    4. Basal body temperature (BBT): Patient takes her oral temperature at the same time every morning before arising. BBT falls by about 0.5°F at the time of ovulation. During the second (progestational) half of the cycle, temperature is slightly raised above the preovulatory level (rise of 0.5° to 1°F). This is due to the slight pyrogenic action of progesterone and is therefore presumptive evidence of functional corpus luteum.
    5. Cervical mucus study:
      Fern test: During estrogenic phase, a characteristic pattern of fern formation is seen when cervical mucus is spread on a glass slide (Figure 862.4). This ferning disappears after the 21st day of the cycle. If previously observed, its disappearance is presumptive evidence of corpus luteum activity.
      Spinnbarkeit test: Cervical mucus is elastic and withstands stretching upto a distance of over 10 cm. This phenomenon is called Spinnbarkeit or the thread test for the estrogen activity. During the secretory phase, viscosity of the cervical mucus increases and it gets fractured when stretched. This change in cervical mucus is evidence of ovulation.
    6. Vaginal cytology: Karyopyknotic index (KI) is high during estrogenic phase, while it becomes low in secretory phase. This refers to percentage of super-ficial squamous cells with pyknotic nuclei to all mature squamous cells in a lateral vaginal wall smear. Usually minimum of 300 cells are evaluated. The peak KI usually corresponds with time of ovulation and may reach upto 50 to 85.
    7. Estimation of progesterone in mid-luteal phase (day 21 or 7 days before expected menstruation): Progesterone level > 10 nmol/L is a reliable evidence of ovulation if cycles are regular (Figure 862.5). A mistimed sample is a common cause of abnormal result.
     
    Figure 862.4 Ferning of cervical mucosa
    Figure 862.4 Ferning of cervical mucosa
     
    Figure 862.5 Serum progesterone during normal menstrual cycle
    Figure 862.5 Serum progesterone during normal menstrual cycle
     
    Tests to Determine the Cause of Anovulation
     
    1. Measurement of LH, FSH, and estradiol during days 2 to 6: All values are low in hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (hypothalamic or pituitary failure).
    2. Measurement of TSH, prolactin, and testosterone if cycles are irregular or absent:
      Increased TSH: Hypothyroidism
      Increased prolactin: Pituitary adenoma
      Increased testosterone: Polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD), congenital adrenal hyperplasia (To differentiate PCOD from congenital adrenal hyperplasia, ultrasound and estimation of dihydroepiandrosterone or DHEA are done).
    3. Transvaginal ultrasonography: This is done for detection of PCOD.
     
    Investigations to Assess Tubal and Uterine Status
     
    1. Infectious disease: These tests include endometrial biopsy for tuberculosis and test for chlamydial IgG antibodies for tubal factor in infertility.
    2. Hysterosalpingography (HSG): HSG is a radiological contrast study for investigation of the shape of the uterine cavity and for blockage of fallopian tubes (Figure 862.6). A catheter is introduced into the cervical canal and a radiocontrast dye is injected into the uterine cavity. A real time X-ray imaging is carried out to observe the flow of the dye into the uterine cavity, tubes, and spillage into the uterine cavity.
    3. Hysterosalpingo-contrast sonography: A catheter is introduced into the cervical canal and an echocontrast fluid is introduced into the uterine cavity. Shape of the uterine cavity, filling of fallopian tubes, and spillage of contrast fluid are noted. In addition, ultrasound scan of the pelvis provides information about any fibroids or polycystic ovarian disease.
    4. Laparoscopy and dye hydrotubation test with hysteroscopy: In this test, a cannula is inserted into the cervix and methylene blue dye is introduced into the uterine cavity. If tubes are patent, spillage of the dye is observed from the ends of both tubes. This technique also allows visualization of pelvic organs, endometriosis, and pelvic adhesions. If required, endometriosis and tubal blockage can be treated during the procedure.
     
    Possible pregnancy and active pelvic or vaginal infection are contraindications to tubal patency tests.
     
    Figure 862.6 Hysterosalpingography
    Figure 862.6 Hysterosalpingography
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