In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
What is In Vitro Fertilization?
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a method of infertility treatment in which the sperm and the egg (oocyte) are combined in a laboratory dish for fertilization to occur. A doctor then transfers the resulting embryo(s) to the uterus to develop naturally. IVF treatment offers the highest rate of success of all the treatment options for infertility. It is also the most complex fertility treatment.
IVF has been successfully used for nearly three decades. Louise Brown, the first IVF baby (back then, she was referred to as the "test tube baby"), was born in 1978. Since then, technology and skills have become very advanced and fine-tuned. Accordingly, success rates for assisted reproductive technology (ART) have risen and are reported annually by members of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART). As with all medical treatments, success depends on many variables from patient to patient and even cycle to cycle. Hundreds of thousands of children have resulted from IVF treatment.
IVF was originally intended as a way for women with blocked fallopian tubes to conceive a child. Because of its success, IVF is now used to treat a number of other infertility causes. When combined with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), IVF therapy results in success even for men with severe male factor infertility. The use of donor sperm and donor eggs with IVF may allow men and women who would otherwise not have a chance at pregnancy to experience the wonders of pregnancy, birth, and biological parenthood.
IVF can help under the following conditions:
- Low sperm count
- Uterus or fallopian tube abnormalities
- Ovulation disorders or problems
- Presence of antibodies that harm sperm or eggs
- Sperm that are unable to penetrate the egg or survive in the cervical mucus
- Unexplained infertility
The most common IVF treatment begins with the stimulation of the ovaries to prepare and release a number of mature oocytes, or eggs. This process starts about one week before menstruation with the administration of medications to prevent early ovulation. Once menstruation begins, fertility medications are given daily to stimulate the maturation of oocytes. When the eggs are fully mature, usually about eight to ten days later, an additional medication is given and the patient is prepared for egg retrieval. Visit our Ovulation Induction page to learn about this process in more detail.
The mature eggs are collected for in vitro fertilization using a simple outpatient procedure known as ultrasound-guided transvaginal oocyte aspiration. This process takes between 10 and 15 minutes and recovery is brief. Visit our Egg Retrieval page for more information about this procedure.
Semen is collected on the same day as the egg retrieval procedure.
If in vitro fertilization of the eggs occurs, one healthy embryo will be selected for embryo transfer, or placement into the uterus. Any additional embryos can be cryopreserved, or frozen, for later use in case the first IVF cycle is unsuccessful. Hopefully, the transferred embryo will implant, resulting in a successful pregnancy.
During IVF cycles in which previously frozen embryos will be used, the ovulation induction and egg retrieval phases are not performed. For this reason, these cycles are significantly less expensive and involve fewer stages than the initial, traditional cycle. However, it is still necessary to closely monitor, or even control, the progression of the menstrual cycle. Because the frozen embryo transfer procedure must take place at precisely the time when conception would naturally occur, frequent ultrasounds and blood tests will be performed during the first 10 to 15 days of the cycle.
Frozen Embryo Transfer
When the cycle has reached the correct stage, an embryo will be selected and thawed. The frozen embryo transfer procedure takes place in exactly the same way as a fresh embryo transfer. A thin catheter is inserted into the uterus through the cervix. The embryo is then introduced into the uterine cavity through this tube. The procedure takes very little time and there is minimal discomfort. In-vitro fertilization is a highly effective fertility treatment, but it is not uncommon for more than one cycle to be performed before pregnancy occurs. One of the ways we can ease the physical, financial, and emotional burden of undergoing multiple IVF cycles is through the use of cryopreserved, or frozen, embryos. Frozen embryo transfer can be used in subsequent IVF cycles when the initial cycle is unsuccessful, or be performed years later when the patient is ready to have another child.
Chances of Success
Roughly 70 percent of embryos survive the freezing and thawing process. However, once thawing is complete and the healthy embryos are selected, the chance of successful implantation and pregnancy after frozen embryo transfer is about equal to that of a fresh transfer procedure.
Contact Our Charlotte Fertility Center
To learn more, and to request an appointment for an in vitro fertilization (IVF) consultation click here or call 704.343.4444. The infertility specialists at REACH are happy to answer any questions you may have.