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During in vitro fertilization (IVF), eggs and sperm are brought together in a laboratory glass dish to allow the sperm to fertilize an egg. With IVF, you can use any combination of your own eggs and sperm and donor eggs and sperm.
After IVF, one or more fertilized eggs are placed in the uterus.
Ovulation and egg retrieval. To prepare for an assisted reproductive procedure using your own eggs, you will require hormone treatment to control your egg production (ovulation). This is done to prevent unpredictable ovulation, which would make it necessary to cancel that in vitro attempt. This is typically done using one of two similar types of gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogue (GnRH agonist or GnRH antagonist). The following are two examples of how ovulation can be controlled:
After the first week, your doctor checks your blood estrogen levels and uses ultrasound to see whether eggs are maturing in the follicles. During the second week, your dosage may change based on test results. And you are monitored frequently with transvaginal ultrasound and blood tests. If follicles fully develop, you are given a human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) injection to stimulate the follicles to mature. The mature eggs are collected 34 to 36 hours later by needle aspiration guided by ultrasound. You will usually have pain medicine and sedation for this procedure.
Sperm collection. Sperm are collected by means of masturbation or by taking sperm from a testicle through a small incision. This procedure is done when a blockage prevents sperm from being ejaculated or when there is a problem with sperm development. Sperm may have been collected and frozen at an earlier time. Then the sperm are thawed on the day the eggs are collected.
Fertilization and embryo transfer. The eggs and sperm are placed in a glass dish and incubated with careful temperature, atmospheric, and infection control for 48 to 120 hours. About 2 to 5 days after fertilization, the best fertilized eggs are selected. One to three are placed in the uterus using a thin flexible tube (catheter) that is inserted through the cervix. Those remaining may be frozen (cryopreserved) for future attempts.
Pregnancy and birth. Any embryos that implant in the uterus may then result in pregnancy and birth of one or more infants.
Overall, in vitro fertilization (IVF)-related injections, monitoring, and procedures are emotionally and physically demanding of the female partner. Superovulation with hormones requires regular blood tests, daily injections (some of which are quite painful), frequent monitoring by your doctor, and harvesting of eggs.
These procedures are done on an outpatient basis and require only a short recovery time. You may have cramping during the procedure. You may be advised to avoid strenuous activities for the remainder of the day or to be on bed rest for a few days, depending on your condition and your doctor's recommendation.
In vitro fertilization may be a treatment option if:
IVF can be done even if a:
IVF can be done using donor eggs for women who cannot produce their own eggs due to advanced age or other causes.
The number of women who have babies after in vitro fertilization varies, depending on many different things. Almost all assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedures are done using IVF.
Age. Birth rates resulting from a single cycle of IVF using women's own eggs are about 30% to 40% for women age 34 and younger, then rates decrease steadily after age 35.1 The aging of the egg supply has a powerful effect on the chances that an assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedure will result in pregnancy and a healthy baby.
Cause of infertility. Infertility can be caused by problems with the woman's or the man's reproductive system. Some of these causes can include problems with the fallopian tubes, with ovulation, or with the sperm.
Pregnancy history. A woman who has already had a live birth is more likely to have a successful ART procedure than a woman who hasn't given birth before. This "previous birth advantage" gradually narrows as women age from their early 30s to their 40s.
Own eggs versus donor eggs. Birth rates are affected by whether ART procedures use a woman's own eggs or donor eggs. Many women over age 40 choose to use donor eggs, which greatly improves their chances of giving birth to healthy babies. For each cycle of in vitro fertilization:1
Frozen embryos versus fresh embryos. Donor-frozen IVF embryos from a previous IVF cycle that are thawed and transferred to the uterus are less likely to result in a live birth than are donor-fresh (newly fertilized) IVF embryos.1 But frozen embryos are less expensive and less invasive for a woman, because superovulation and egg retrieval aren't needed.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) increases the risks of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome and multiple pregnancy.
There may be a higher risk of birth defects for babies conceived by certain assisted reproductive techniques, such as IVF. Talk with your doctor about these possible risks.
For a woman over age 35 to maximize her chances of conceiving with her own eggs and carrying a healthy pregnancy, she may choose to have more embryos transferred than a younger woman would. But this increases her risk of multiple pregnancy.
Because of the risks to the babies of multiple pregnancy, experts recommend limiting the number of embryos transferred. Your doctor will recommend a certain number of embryos to be transferred based on your age and specific situation.
Women over 40 have a high rate of embryo loss when using their own eggs. As an alternative, older women can choose to use more viable donor eggs. When a woman uses donor eggs, experts recommend using the donor's age to help figure out how many embryos to transfer.2
Smoking has a damaging effect on fertility and pregnancy. Smoking reduces the chance that IVF will work.3 Smoking can also affect the health of the fetus.
In vitro fertilization provides diagnostic information about fertilization and embryo development (which is not the case with a GIFT or ZIFT procedure).
Using ultrasound to help collect eggs from the woman's ovaries is less expensive, less risky, and less invasive than egg collection by laparoscopy.
In the United States, a cycle of in vitro fertilization costs approximately $10,000 to $15,000.
If you and your doctor are concerned about passing on a genetic disorder to your child, preimplantation genetic diagnosis might be available. Some genetic disorders can be identified with specialized testing before an embryo is transferred, increasing the chances of conceiving a healthy child.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (2008). 2008 Assisted Reproductive Technology Success Rates: National Summary and Fertility Clinic Reports. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/art/ART2008/PDF/ART_2008_Full.pdf.
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine and Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (2009). Guidelines on number of embryos transferred. Fertility and Sterility, 92(5): 1518–1519.
- Fritz MA, Speroff L (2011). Assisted reproductive technologies. In Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility, 8th ed., pp. 1331–1382. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Last Revised: December 7, 2011
Author: Healthwise Staff
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