What is “In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)” ?
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a complex series of procedures used to treat fertility or genetic problems and assist with the conception of a child.
During IVF, mature eggs are collected (retrieved) from your ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab. Then the fertilized egg (embryo) or eggs are implanted in your uterus. One cycle of IVF takes about two weeks.
IVF is the most effective form of assisted reproductive technology. The procedure can be done using your own eggs and your partner’s sperm. Or IVF may involve eggs, sperm or embryos from a known or anonymous donor. In some cases, a gestational carrier — a woman who has an embryo implanted in her uterus — might be used.
Your chances of having a healthy baby using IVF depend on many factors, such as your age and the cause of infertility. In addition, IVF can be time-consuming, expensive and invasive. If more than one embryo is implanted in your uterus, IVF can result in a pregnancy with more than one fetus (multiple pregnancy).
Your doctor can help you understand how IVF works, the potential risks and whether this method of treating infertility is right for you.
Why is it done?
- Fallopian tube damage or blockage. Fallopian tube damage or blockage makes it difficult for an egg to be fertilized or for an embryo to travel to the uterus.
- Ovulation disorders. If ovulation is infrequent or absent, fewer eggs are available for fertilization.
- Premature ovarian failure. Premature ovarian failure is the loss of normal ovarian function before age 40. If your ovaries fail, they don’t produce normal amounts of the hormone estrogen or have eggs to release regularly.
- Endometriosis. Endometriosis occurs when the uterine tissue implants and grows outside of the uterus — often affecting the function of the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes.
- Uterine fibroids. Fibroids are benign tumors in the wall of the uterus and are common in women in their 30s and 40s. Fibroids can interfere with implantation of the fertilized egg.
- Previous tubal sterilization or removal. If you’ve had tubal ligation — a type of sterilization in which your fallopian tubes are cut or blocked to permanently prevent pregnancy — and want to conceive, IVF may be an alternative to tubal ligation reversal.
- Impaired sperm production or function. Below-average sperm concentration, weak movement of sperm (poor mobility), or abnormalities in sperm size and shape can make it difficult for sperm to fertilize an egg. If semen abnormalities are found, your partner might need to see a specialist to determine if there are correctable problems or underlying health concerns.
- Unexplained infertility. Unexplained infertility means no cause of infertility has been found despite evaluation for common causes.
- A genetic disorder. If you or your partner is at risk of passing on a genetic disorder to your child, you may be candidates for preimplantation genetic diagnosis — a procedure that involves IVF. After the eggs are harvested and fertilized, they’re screened for certain genetic problems, although not all genetic problems can be found. Embryos that don’t contain identified problems can be transferred to the uterus.
- Fertility preservation for cancer or other health conditions. If you’re about to start cancer treatment — such as radiation or chemotherapy — that could harm your fertility, IVF for fertility preservation may be an option. Women can have eggs harvested from their ovaries and frozen in an unfertilized state for later use. Or the eggs can be fertilized and frozen as embryos for future use.Women who don’t have a functional uterus or for whom pregnancy poses a serious health risk might choose IVF using another person to carry the pregnancy (gestational carrier). In this case, the woman’s eggs are fertilized with sperm, but the resulting embryos are placed in the gestational carrier’s uterus.
- Multiple births. IVF increases the risk of multiple births if more than one embryo is implanted in your uterus. A pregnancy with multiple fetuses carries a higher risk of early labor and low birth weight than pregnancy with a single fetus does.
- Premature delivery and low birth weight. Research suggests that use of IVF slightly increases the risk that a baby will be born early or with a low birth weight.
- Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Use of injectable fertility drugs, such as human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), to induce ovulation can cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, in which your ovaries become swollen and painful.Signs and symptoms typically last a week and include mild abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If you become pregnant, however, your symptoms might last several weeks. Rarely, it’s possible to develop a more-severe form of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome that can also cause rapid weight gain and shortness of breath.
- Miscarriage. The rate of miscarriage for women who conceive using IVF with fresh embryos is similar to that of women who conceive naturally — about 15 to 25 percent — but the rate increases with maternal age. Use of frozen embryos during IVF, however, may slightly increase the risk of miscarriage.
- Egg-retrieval procedure complications. Use of an aspirating needle to collect eggs could possibly cause bleeding, infection or damage to the bowel, bladder or a blood vessel. Risks are also associated with general anesthesia, if used.
- Ectopic pregnancy. About 2 to 5 percent of women who use IVF will have an ectopic pregnancy — when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube. The fertilized egg can’t survive outside the uterus, and there’s no way to continue the pregnancy.
- Birth defects. The age of the mother is the primary risk factor in the development of birth defects, no matter how the child is conceived. More research is needed to determine whether babies conceived using IVF might be at increased risk of certain birth defects. Some experts believe that the use of IVF does not increase the risk of having a baby with birth defects.
- Ovarian cancer. Although some early studies suggested there may be a link between certain medications used to stimulate egg growth and the development of a specific type of ovarian tumor, more recent studies do not support these findings.
- Stress. Use of IVF can be financially, physically and emotionally draining. Support from counselors, family and friends can help you and your partner through the ups and downs of infertility treatment.
How is In Vitro Fertilization Performed?
There are five steps involved in IVF:
- egg retrieval
- embryo culture
A woman normally produces one egg during each menstrual cycle. However, IVF requires multiple eggs. Using multiple eggs increases the chances of developing a viable embryo. You’ll receive fertility drugs to increase the number of eggs your body produces. During this time, your doctor will perform regular blood tests and ultrasounds to monitor the production of eggs and to let your doctor know when to retrieve them.
Egg retrieval is known as follicular aspiration. It’s a surgical procedure performed with anesthesia. Your doctor will use an ultrasound wand to guide a needle through your vagina, into your ovary, and into an egg-containing follicle. The needle will suction eggs and fluid out of each follicle.
The male partner will now need to give a semen sample. A technician will mix the sperm with the eggs in a petri dish. If that doesn’t produce embryos, your doctor may decide to use ICSI.
Your doctor will monitor the fertilized eggs to ensure that they’re dividing and developing. The embryos may undergo testing for genetic conditions at this time.
When the embryos are big enough, they can be implanted. This normally occurs three to five days after fertilization. Implantation involves inserting a thin tube called a catheter inserted into your vagina, past your cervix, and into your uterus. Your doctor then releases the embryo into your uterus.
Pregnancy occurs when the embryo implants itself in the uterine wall. This can take 6 to 10 days. A blood test will determine if you’re pregnant.
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