GnRH antagonist versus long agonist protocols in IVF: a systematic review and meta-analysis accounting for patient type

C B Lambalk, F R Banga, J A Huirne, M Toftager, A Pinborg, R Homburg, F van der Veen, M van Wely

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

255 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Most reviews of IVF ovarian stimulation protocols have insufficiently accounted for various patient populations, such as ovulatory women, women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or women with poor ovarian response, and have included studies in which the agonist or antagonist was not the only variable between the compared study arms.

OBJECTIVE AND RATIONALE: The aim of the current study was to compare GnRH antagonist protocols versus standard long agonist protocols in couples undergoing IVF or ICSI, while accounting for various patient populations and treatment schedules.

SEARCH METHODS: The Cochrane Menstrual Disorders and Subfertility Review Group specialized register of controlled trials and Pubmed and Embase databases were searched from inception until June 2016. Eligible trials were those that compared GnRH antagonist protocols and standard long GnRH agonist protocols in couples undergoing IVF or ICSI. The primary outcome was ongoing pregnancy rate. Secondary outcomes were: live birth rate, clinical pregnancy rate, number of oocytes retrieved and safety with regard to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). Separate comparisons were performed for the general IVF population, women with PCOS and women with poor ovarian response. Pre-planned subgroup analyses were performed for various antagonist treatment schedules.

OUTCOMES: We included 50 studies. Of these, 34 studies reported on general IVF patients, 10 studies reported on PCOS patients and 6 studies reported on poor responders. In general IVF patients, ongoing pregnancy rate was significantly lower in the antagonist group compared with the agonist group (RR 0.89, 95% CI 0.82-0.96). In women with PCOS and in women with poor ovarian response, there was no evidence of a difference in ongoing pregnancy between the antagonist and agonist groups (RR 0.97, 95% CI 0.84-1.11 and RR 0.87, 95% CI 0.65-1.17, respectively). Subgroup analyses for various antagonist treatment schedules compared to the long protocol GnRH agonist showed a significantly lower ongoing pregnancy rate when the oral hormonal programming pill (OHP) pretreatment was combined with a flexible protocol (RR 0.74, 95% CI 0.59-0.91) while without OHP, the RR was 0.84, 95% CI 0.71-1.0. Subgroup analysis for the fixed antagonist schedule demonstrated no evidence of a significant difference with or without OHP (RR 0.94, 95% CI 0.79-1.12 and RR 0.94, 95% CI 0.83-1.05, respectively). Antagonists resulted in significantly lower OHSS rates both in the general IVF patients and in women with PCOS (RR 0.63, 95% CI 0.50-0.81 and RR 0.53, 95% CI 0.30-0.95, respectively). No data on OHSS was available from trials in poor responders.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS: In a general IVF population, GnRH antagonists are associated with lower ongoing pregnancy rates when compared to long protocol agonists, but also with lower OHSS rates. Within this population, antagonist treatment prevents one case of OHSS in 40 patients but results in one less ongoing pregnancy out of every 28 women treated. Thus standard use of the long GnRH agonist treatment is perhaps still the approach of choice for prevention of premature luteinization. In couples with PCOS and poor responders, GnRH antagonists do not seem to compromise ongoing pregnancy rates and are associated with less OHSS and therefore could be considered as standard treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)560-579
Number of pages20
JournalHuman Reproduction Update
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017


  • Journal Article

Cite this