What Is IVF?
IVF (in vitro fertilization) is a form of assisted reproductive technology that involves fertilizing a woman’s egg with a man’s sperm in a laboratory. One or more fertilized eggs may be implanted in the lining of the woman’s uterus to develop normally.
Once an obscure procedure for infertility, the technique produced what were then popularly referred to as “test tube babies.” The first baby born as a result of IVF was Louise Brown in England, in 1978.
IVF is a complicated and costly procedure. Of couples who are experiencing infertility, only around 5% choose to have it performed. However, IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies (ART) have been used in nearly 2% of all births in the US since it first became available in 1981.
IVF procedures rarely lead to serious complications. However, there are certain risks associated with any medical treatment.
How IVF Works
IVF is one of the most well-known ART techniques. It uses a blend of surgical procedures and medicines to assist sperm in fertilizing an egg, and assist the fertilized egg in being successfully implanted in the uterus.
Initially, medication is taken that helps a woman make a number of eggs become mature and prepared for fertilization. Next, the doctor will remove the eggs and combine them with sperm in the lab to cause fertilization to occur.
Finally, one or more fertilized eggs ( embryos ) are implanted directly into the uterus. Permanency occurs when any of the fertilized eggs are successfully implanted into the lining of the uterus.
IVF involves many stages and the entire procedure can take several months to complete. Although it can sometimes work on the first attempt, many women need to go through more than one round of IVF treatments before they get pregnant.
If you have fertility issues, IVF will increase your chances of getting pregnant. However, IVF is not a guaranteed method. Everyone’s physiology is unique and IVF may not work for you.
In order to help the ovaries produce a number of mature eggs that are ready to be fertilized, the first step in IVF treatment is for the woman to take prescribed fertility medications over a period of a few months. This step is referred to as “ovulation induction”.
Regular ultrasounds and blood tests may be required to monitor your hormone levels, as well as egg production.
The doctor will then remove the eggs from the patient’s body once the ovaries have produced a sufficient number mature eggs, a process referred to as egg retrieval. Egg retrieval involves minor outpatient surgery that can be performed in a doctor’s office or a fertility clinic.
After administering a sedative, the doctor uses an ultrasound to view inside the patient’s body and places a thin tube through her vagina. This tube goes into the ovary that holds the eggs . A suction device that’s connected to the needle then gently pulls out each egg.
The actual process of insemination takes place in a lab, when the eggs are combined with sperm from a partner or a donor. Fertilization occurs after the eggs and sperm are kept together in a special container.
Sperm with poor motility (or that don’t swim well) can be injected directly into the eggs to encourage fertilization. Lab technicians will monitor the progress of the cells in the fertilized eggs as they divide and develop into embryos.
Between 3-5 days following the egg retrieval procedure, one or more of the embryos will be placed into the patient’s uterus, a process known as an embryo transfer. The doctor inserts the embryo into the lining of the uterus by placing a thin tube through the cervix.
If embryos attach to the uterine lining, it will result in a successful pregnancy. The procedure is usually painless and can be done at a doctor’s office or fertility clinic.
After a woman receives an embryo transfer, she should plan to rest for the remainder of the day. The following day she can resume her normal activities.
During the first 8-10 week following the embryo transfer, the patient may need to take daily progesterone pills or shots. Progesterone makes it easier for the embryo to survive inside the uterus.
Side Effects Of IVF
IVF, like all medical procedures and medications, can have potential side effects and risks, such as:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Tenderness of the breasts
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Mood swings
- Mild bruising and/or soreness at injection site
- Allergic reaction to medications or at injection site
- OHSS (Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome)
Symptoms of OHSS include nausea, bloating, ovarian discomfort, but are usually mild. They typically resolve on their own without treatment within a few days following egg retrieval.
In extreme cases, OHSS can cause an excessive build-up of fluid in the abdomen and lungs. This can lead to enlarged ovaries, dehydration, difficulty breathing, and intense abdominal pain. In extremely rare instances of women undergoing egg retrieval for IVF (less than 1%), OHSS can potentially cause blood clots and kidney failure.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns or questions you may have regarding IVF side effects and risks.
Additionally, IVF can be emotionally difficult for both the individual undergoing the procedure and their partner or family members. Many IVF patients experience anxiety and depression throughout IVF treatment.
For anyone who feels overwhelmed or discouraged, talking with others who have gone through IVF and fertility problems can be very helpful. You can also find support and advice from other people in local support groups and online communities. Help can also be found by speaking with a counselor, therapist, or other professional.
IVF is often very expensive. If you meet certain criteria, there are some states with laws that require health insurance companies to cover the cost of infertility treatments, either partially or fully. However, many insurance policies don’t provide any coverage for fertility treatment.
The charges for one round of IVF treatment cover procedures, medications, bloodwork, ultrasounds, anesthesia, embryo storage and lab work. Although the exact price for IVF treatment will vary, it can be as much as $15,000 or more.
Janice Reilly is the Deputy Editor of Content at The Sperm Count Report. She has extensive experience as a writer and editor for medical news blogs, where she covered fitness, reproductive health, nutritional supplementation, and similar subjects.