What is In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)?
In Vitro Fertilization is an assisted reproductive technology (ART) commonly referred to as IVF. IVF is the process of fertilization by extracting eggs, retrieving a sperm sample, and then manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. The embryo(s) is then transferred to the uterus. Other forms of ART include gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) and zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT).
Why is IVF used?
IVF can be used to treat infertility in the following patients:
- Blocked or damaged fallopian tubes
- Male factor infertility including decreased sperm count or sperm motility
- Women with ovulation disorders, premature ovarian failure, uterine fibroids
- Women who have had their fallopian tubes removed
- Individuals with a genetic disorder
- Unexplained infertility
How is In Vitro Fertilization Done?
There are five basic steps in the IVF and embryo transfer process:
Step 1: Fertility medications are prescribed to stimulate egg production. Multiple eggs are desired because some eggs will not develop or fertilize after retrieval. A transvaginal ultrasound is used to examine the ovaries, and blood test samples are taken to check hormone levels.
Step 2: Eggs are retrieved through a minor surgical procedure that uses ultrasound imaging to guide a hollow needle through the pelvic cavity to remove the eggs. Medication is provided to reduce and remove potential discomfort.
Step 3: The male is asked to produce a sample of sperm, which is prepared for combining with the eggs.
Step 4: In a process called insemination, the sperm and eggs are mixed together and stored in a laboratory dish to encourage fertilization. In some cases where there is a lower probability of fertilization, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) may be used. Through this procedure, a single sperm is injected directly into the egg in an attempt to achieve fertilization. The eggs are monitored to confirm that fertilization and cell division are taking place. Once this occurs, the fertilized eggs are considered embryos.
Step 5: The embryos are usually transferred into the woman’s uterus three to five days following egg retrieval and fertilization. A catheter or small tube is inserted into the uterus to transfer the embryos. This procedure is painless for most women, although some may experience mild cramping. If the procedure is successful, implantation typically occurs around six to ten days following egg retrieval.
How Successful is IVF?
The success rate depends on a number of factors including reproductive history, maternal age, the cause of infertility, and lifestyle factors. It is also important to understand that pregnancy rates are not the same as live birth rates. In the United States, the live birth rate for each IVF cycle started is approximate:
- 41-43% for women under age 35
- 33-36% for women ages 35 to 37
- 23-27% for women ages 38 to 40
- 13-18% for women ages over 40
Are There Any Side Effects?
Although you may need to take it easy after the procedure, most women can resume normal activities the following day.
Some side effects after IVF may include:
- Passing a small amount of fluid (may be clear or blood-tinged) after the procedure
- Mild cramping
- Mild bloating
- Breast tenderness
If you experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately:
- Heavy vaginal bleeding
- Pelvic pain
- Blood in the urine
- A fever over 100.5 °F (38 °C)
Some side effects of fertility medications may include:
- Mood swings
- Abdominal pain
- Hot flashes
- Abdominal bloating
- RARE: Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)
Are There Any Risks?
As with most medical procedures, there are potential risks. More severe symptoms, typically from OHSS, include the following:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Decreased urinary frequency
- Shortness of breath
- Severe stomach pains and bloating
- Ten-pound weight gain within three to five days
If you experience any of these symptoms above, contact your doctor right away. Additional risks of IVF include the following:
- Egg retrieval carries risks of bleeding, infection, and damage to the bowel or bladder.
- The chance of a multiples pregnancy is increased with the use of fertility treatment. There are additional risks and concerns related to multiples during pregnancy including the increased risk of premature delivery and low birth weight.
- Though the rates of miscarriage are similar to unassisted conception, the risk does increase with maternal age.
- The Mayo Clinic reports that the risk of ectopic pregnancy with IVF is 2-5%. An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants anywhere outside the uterus and is not viable.
- Assisted reproductive technology (ART) involves a significant physical, financial, and emotional commitment on the part of a couple. Psychological stress and emotional problems are common, especially if in vitro fertilization (IVF) is unsuccessful.
- IVF is expensive, and many insurance plans do not provide coverage for fertility treatment. The cost for a single IVF cycle can range from at least $12,000-$17,000.
What if I don’t produce healthy eggs or my husband is sterile?
You may choose to use donor eggs, sperm, or embryos. However, make sure to talk with a counselor experienced with donor issues. You will want to be informed about various legal issues related to gamete donation including the legal rights of the donor.
How many embryos should be created or transferred?
The number of embryos transferred typically depends on the number of eggs collected and maternal age. As the rate of implantation decreases as women age, more eggs may be implanted depending on age to increase the likelihood of implantation. However, a greater number of eggs transferred increases the chances of having a multiples pregnancy. Make sure to talk with your doctor before the procedure so you both agree on how many embryos to implant.
How do I choose an infertility clinic?
There are a number of questions to ask regarding the cost and details of specific centers and fertility programs. Some suggested questions are available online in Selecting Your ART Program. Some couples want to explore more traditional or over the counter efforts before exploring infertility procedures. If you are trying to get pregnant and looking for resources to support your efforts, we invite you to check out the fertility product and resource guide provided by our corporate sponsor. Review resource guide here.
Want to Know More?
- How to Get and Keep a Healthy Sperm Count
- Infertility 101: What You Need to Know First
- Fertility Friendly Lubricants
- Ovulation: Frequently Asked Questions
Compiled using information from the following sources:
1. American Society for Reproductive Medicine. (2014). Gamete and embryo donation: Deciding whether to tell.
2. Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority. (2014). IVF – What is in vitro fertilization (IVF) and how does it work?
3. Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority. (2014). Risks of fertility treatment.
4. MedlinePlus. (2014). In vitro fertilization (IVF).
5. Mayo Clinic. (2013, June 27). In vitro fertilization (IVF).
6. RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. (n.d.) IVF/ART.