In vitro fertilization, or IVF, is a procedure that involves retrieving eggs and sperm from the bodies of the male and female partners and placing them together in a laboratory dish to enhance fertilization. Fertilized eggs are then transferred several days later into the female partner’s uterus where implantation and embryo development will hopefully occur as in a normal pregnancy. IVF is performed by physicians who specialize in reproductive medicine and have received additional education and training in the evaluation and treatment of male and female infertility.
IVF was originally developed in the early 1970s to treat infertility caused by blocked or damaged fallopian tubes. By 1978, the first IVF baby, Louise Brown, was born in the United Kingdom. Since then, the number of IVF procedures performed each year has increased and the success rate has improved significantly. IVF involves several different treatment stages:
Ovarian Stimulation and Monitoring: In order to maximize the patient’s chances for successful fertilization, a patient undergoing IVF usually take hormones in the form of injections to increase the number of eggs produced in a given month. Monitoring is performed to continuously follow a woman’s ovarian response, allowing the physician to adjust and time medication dosage appropriately.
Ovum Retrieval: With the patient sedated and comfortable, the ova or eggs are retrieved through the vagina under ultrasound guidance.
Culture and Fertilization: The oocytes are fertilized with sperm from the male partner. At times, the sperm are put down on top of the oocyte. In other cases, especially when there are less than one million living sperm, ICSI or intracytoplasmic sperm injection is used catch a single sperm and inject it directly into the oocyte.
Embryo Transfer: Either three or four of the best embryos are transferred directly into the uterus and allowed to implant. The remaining healthy embryos may be cryopreserved (frozen) The pregnancy test is performed 11 days after embryo transfer. In a good program with a high quality laboratory, a woman under the age of 40 should become pregnant approximately 50% of the time.