The medical world has a language all its own. As you navigate through your fertility journey here are the key infertility terms to know.
Common Infertility Terms
ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology): Any procedure where eggs are surgically removed from a woman’s ovaries and combined with sperm to assist a woman in getting pregnant. ART procedures include In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT), and Zygote Intrafallopian Transfer (ZIFT).
ART cycle: The process includes 1) an ART procedure, 2) ovarian stimulation, or 3) frozen embryos thawed for transfer into a woman. This process begins when a woman starts fertility medications or has her ovaries monitored for follicle production.
Canceled cycle: An ART cycle in which ovarian stimulation was carried out but was stopped before eggs were retrieved, or in the case of frozen embryo cycles, before embryos were transferred. The reasons a cycle maybe have been canceled include undeveloped eggs, the patient becomes ill, or the patient chose to stop treatment.
Combination cycle: An ART cycle which uses more than one ART procedure. Combination cycles usually combine IVF with either GIFT or ZIFT.
The concentration of motile sperm: A measurement of the sperm that can readily swim to fertilize the egg. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there should be a minimum of 10 million motile sperm per milliliter of semen.
Cryopreservation: The process of freezing extra embryos from a couple’s ART cycle for potential future use.
Diminished ovarian reserve: A diagnosed condition which means the ability of the ovary to produce eggs is reduced. The reasons may either be congenital, medical, surgical causes or advanced maternal age (older than 40).
Donor egg cycle: An embryo is formed from the donor egg of one woman (the donor) and then transferred to another woman who is unable to use her own eggs (the recipient). All parental rights are relinquished by the donor.
Donor embryo: An embryo that is donated by a couple who previously underwent ART treatment and had extra embryos available. All parental rights are relinquished by the donor couple.
Ectopic pregnancy: A pregnancy in which the fertilized egg implants in a location outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube, the ovary, or the abdominal cavity.
Egg: A female reproductive cell, also called an oocyte or ovum.
Egg retrieval (also called oocyte retrieval): A procedure to collect the eggs contained in the ovarian follicles.
Egg transfer (also called oocyte transfer): The procedure of transferring retrieved eggs into a woman’s fallopian tubes through laparoscopy; this procedure is used only in GIFT.
Embryo: An egg that has been fertilized by a sperm and undergone one or more divisions.
Embryo transfer: The procedure of placing an embryo into a woman’s uterus through the cervix after in vitro fertilization (IVF). During the process of zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT), the embryos are placed in a woman’s fallopian tube.
Endometriosis: A medical condition that involves the presence of tissue similar to the uterine lining in abnormal locations. This condition can affect both fertilization of the egg and embryo implantation.
Fertilization: The penetration of the egg by the sperm and the resulting combining of genetic material that develops into an embryo.
Fetus: The unborn offspring from the eighth week after conception to the moment of birth.
Follicle: A structure in the ovaries that contains a developing egg.
Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH): A hormone produced by the pituitary gland that helps an egg mature and is released. High levels of FSH indicate ovarian reserve is low and chances of conception are poor.
Fresh eggs, sperm, or embryos: Eggs, sperm, or embryos that have not been frozen. However, fresh embryos may have been conceived using either fresh or frozen sperm.
Frozen embryo cycle: An ART cycle in which frozen (cryopreserved) embryos are thawed and transferred to the woman.
Gamete: A reproductive cell, either a sperm or an egg.
GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer): An ART procedure that involves removing eggs from the woman’s ovary, combining them with sperm, and using a laparoscope to place the unfertilized eggs and sperm into the woman’s fallopian tube through small incisions in her abdomen.
A gestational carrier (also called a gestational surrogate): A woman who carries an embryo that was formed from the egg of another woman. The gestational carrier usually has a contractual obligation to return the infant to its intended parents.
Gestational sac: A fluid-filled structure that develops within the uterus early in pregnancy. In a normal pregnancy, a gestational sac contains a developing fetus.
Home fertility screening: Over-the-counter fertility testing kits that allow for screening for both men and women.
ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection): A procedure in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg; this procedure is most commonly used to overcome male infertility problems.
Induced abortion: A surgical or other medical procedure used to end a pregnancy.
IUI (intrauterine insemination): A medical procedure that involves placing sperm into a woman’s uterus to facilitate fertilization. IUI is not considered an ART procedure because it does not involve the manipulation of eggs.
IVF (in vitro fertilization): An ART procedure that involves removing eggs from a woman’s ovaries and fertilizing them outside her body. The resulting embryos are then transferred into the woman’s uterus through the cervix.
Laparoscopy: A surgical procedure in which a fiber-optic instrument (a laparoscope) is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen to view the inside of the pelvis.
Live birth: The delivery of one or more babies with any signs of life.
Male factor: Any cause of infertility due to low sperm count or problems with sperm function that make it difficult for a sperm to fertilize an egg under normal conditions.
Miscarriage (also called spontaneous abortion): A pregnancy ending in the spontaneous loss of the embryo or fetus before 20 weeks of gestation.
Multi-fetal pregnancy reduction: This procedure is also known as selective reduction. A procedure used to decrease the number of fetuses a woman carries and improve the chances that the remaining fetuses will develop into healthy infants. Multi-fetal reductions that occur naturally are referred to as spontaneous reductions.
Multiple factors, female-only: This diagnostic category means that more than one female infertility cause was diagnosed.
Multiple factors, female and male: A diagnostic category used when one or more female/male infertility causes are diagnosed together.
Multiple-infant birth: A pregnancy that results in the birth of more than one infant.
Multiple-fetus pregnancy: A pregnancy with two or more fetuses, determined by the number of fetal hearts observed on an ultrasound performed early in pregnancy.
Oocyte: The female reproductive cell, also called an egg.
Other causes of infertility: These include immunological problems, chromosomal abnormalities, cancer, chemotherapy, and serious illnesses.
Ovarian reserve: Refers to a woman’s fertility potential in the absence of problems in her reproductive tract (fallopian tubes, uterus or vagina).
Ovarian stimulation: The use of medications to stimulate the ovaries to develop follicles and eggs.
Ovulatory dysfunction: A diagnostic category used when a woman’s ovaries are not producing eggs normally. It includes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and multiple ovarian cysts.
Pregnancy (clinical): A pregnancy documented by ultrasound that shows a gestational sac in the uterus. For ART data collection purposes, pregnancy is defined as a clinical pregnancy rather than a chemical pregnancy (i.e., a positive pregnancy test).
Pregnancy Symptoms: A group of physical changes that occur in a woman’s body related to pregnancy and the increased levels of the hCG hormone.
Sperm: The male reproductive cell.
Sperm motility: The sperm’s ability to readily swim forward to fertilize the egg. Also referred to as sperm mobility.
Stillbirth: A fetal death that occurs after 20 weeks gestation.
Stimulated cycle: An ART cycle in which a woman receives oral or injected fertility drugs to stimulate her ovaries to produce more follicles.
Thawed embryo cycle: Same as frozen embryo cycle.
Tubal factor: A diagnostic category used when the woman’s fallopian tubes are blocked or damaged, making it difficult for the egg to be fertilized or for an embryo to travel to the uterus.
Ultrasound: A technique used in ART for visualizing the follicles in the ovaries, the gestational sac, or the fetus.
Unexplained cause of infertility: A diagnostic category used when no cause of infertility is found in either the woman or the man.
Unstimulated cycle: An ART cycle in which the woman does not receive drugs to stimulate her ovaries to produce more follicles.
Instead, follicles develop naturally.
Uterine factor: A structural or functional disorder of the uterus that results in reduced fertility.
ZIFT (zygote intrafallopian transfer): An ART procedure in which eggs are collected from a woman’s ovary and fertilized outside her body. A laparoscope is then used to place the resulting zygote (fertilized egg) into the woman’s fallopian tube through a small incision in her abdomen.