Some research has found that IVF may raise the risk of some very rare birth defects, but the risk is still relatively low. Research has also found that the use of ICSI with IVF, in certain cases of male infertility, may increase the risk of infertility and some sexual birth defects for male children. This risk, however, is very low (less than 1%).
In a bid to understand my chances of IVF success, I took a quick dive through the vast information available from these sources and came away thinking I had the information I needed. I skipped merrily along thinking things looked pretty promising after reading my chances of IVF working the first time was somewhere around the 40% mark. I naively thought that meant I had an 80% chance if I did two cycles, and that I’d definitely have a baby after three rounds at the most. Unfortunately as later reflection revealed, math and statistic just don’t work like this…
If a physician believes infertility is a concern, a number of tests will be administered. For women, these may include ovulation testing, ovarian reserve testing, hormone testing, and hysterosalpingography (X-rays of the fallopian tubes) or other imaging tests. Assessing male infertility involves semen analysis, which examines the number of sperm, as well as their motility and morphology (shape). Other tests for men may include hormonal and genetic testing, testicular biopsy, and additional imaging.
A woman's age is a major factor in the success of IVF for any couple. For instance, a woman who is under age 35 and undergoes IVF has a 39.6% chance of having a baby, while a woman over age 40 has an 11.5% chance. However, the CDC recently found that the success rate is increasing in every age group as the techniques are refined and doctors become more experienced.
In general, the cost of IVF is higher than for IUI, but IVF confers the highest pregnancy rates per cycle. It is impossible to put a precise figure on the two treatments for comparison as much will depend on your personal treatment program. You can see some ballpark figures on the website of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. It also contains an overview of the differences between IUI and IVF.
In the laboratory, for ICSI treatments, the identified eggs are stripped of surrounding cells (also known as cumulus cells) and prepared for fertilisation. An oocyte selection may be performed prior to fertilisation to select eggs that can be fertilized, as it is required they are in metaphase II. There are cases in which if oocytes are in the metaphase I stage, they can be kept being cultured so as to undergo a posterior sperm injection. In the meantime, semen is prepared for fertilisation by removing inactive cells and seminal fluid in a process called sperm washing. If semen is being provided by a sperm donor, it will usually have been prepared for treatment before being frozen and quarantined, and it will be thawed ready for use.
In the well-established fertility treatment of IVF, unlike IUI, the meeting of sperm and egg takes place outside the body, in the laboratory (in vitro). This gives fertility practitioners a lot more control over the selection of a genetically normal embryo that has the best chance of establishing a successful pregnancy. IVF is the fertility treatment with the highest likelihood of taking home a healthy baby. These are the stages involved in IVF:
Monitoring of egg development is usually done with E2 and LH blood hormone tests and ultrasound scans of the ovaries to determine when the egg is mature. The ultrasound allows the physician to visualize the thickness of the uterine lining and the ovaries, more specifically the number of follicles within them. The bloodwork shows the trend of pre- to post-stimulation hormone levels; increased levels of estrogen indicate follicular development.
Prior to the retrieval procedure, you will be given injections of a medication that ripens the developing eggs and starts the process of ovulation. Timing is important; the eggs must be retrieved just before they emerge from the follicles in the ovaries. If the eggs are taken out too early or too late, they won't develop normally. Your doctor may do blood tests or an ultrasound to be sure the eggs are at the right stage of development before retrieving them. The IVF facility will provide you with special instructions to follow the night before and the day of the procedure. Most women are given pain medication and the choice of being mildly sedated or going under full anesthesia.
Once the semen sample is ready, it'll be put through a special washing process, which separates the sperm from the other stuff that is found in semen. The embryologist will choose the “best-looking sperm," placing about 10,000 sperm in each culture dish with an oocyte. The culture dishes are kept in a special incubator, and after 12 to 24 hours, they are inspected for signs of fertilization.
The live birth rate is the percentage of all IVF cycles that lead to a live birth. This rate does not include miscarriage or stillbirth; multiple-order births, such as twins and triplets, are counted as one pregnancy. A 2017 summary compiled by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) which reports the average IVF success rates in the United States per age group using non-donor eggs compiled the following data:
Amongst these two patient populations (which we’ll refer to now as PCOS), IUI with clomid and letrozole generally shows no improvement versus when these drugs are taken without IUI. When IUI is coupled with gonadotropins, success rates reach 14 - 26% per cycle, which is higher than almost any other patient class, but still pales in comparison to IVF. It’s also worth noting that PCOS patients who are taking gonadotropins have a very high risk of multiples.
During the selection and transfer phases, many embryos may be discarded in favour of others. This selection may be based on criteria such as genetic disorders or the sex. One of the earliest cases of special gene selection through IVF was the case of the Collins family in the 1990s, who selected the sex of their child. The ethic issues remain unresolved as no consensus exists in science, religion, and philosophy on when a human embryo should be recognised as a person. For those who believe that this is at the moment of conception, IVF becomes a moral question when multiple eggs are fertilised, begin development, and only a few are chosen for implantation.
Clomiphene citrate (Clomid, Serophene) is a medication commonly used for the treatment of women with ovulation disorders as reflected by infrequent or irregular menstrual cycles. Clomid is a pill taken orally for 5 to 7 days, typically on day 3 of a woman’s menstrual cycle to induce ovulation. Clomid works at the level of the brain and pituitary gland and facilitates the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). FSH and LH, in turn, stimulate the ovaries to produce eggs and the ovarian hormones estradiol (E2) and progesterone (P4). The initial prescribed dosage of clomid is 50 to 100 mg (one or two tablets) daily at bedtime, or as prescribed by your physician.
IUI: An IUI can be done with no medications or a number of different medications to help develop and ovulate one or two eggs. Around day 14 of a woman’s cycle, the insemination takes place which deposits sperm inside the uterus. This greatly increases the number of sperm at the junction of the uterus and fallopian tubes, the distance they have to swim to meet the egg, and thus increases the chances of natural conception for many people.
However, those percentages are from studies in which all the women had laparoscopy surgery to investigate the pelvic cavity for pelvic scarring and endometriosis. Laparoscopy surgery is no longer done as part of the routine fertility workup. Therefore, we are not finding all of the causes of infertility that we used to - leaving many more couples in the unexplained category.
^ Baker VL, Luke B, Brown MB, Alvero R, Frattarelli JL, Usadi R, et al. (September 2010). "Multivariate analysis of factors affecting probability of pregnancy and live birth with in vitro fertilization: an analysis of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology Clinic Outcomes Reporting System". Fertility and Sterility. 94 (4): 1410–6. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2009.07.986. PMID 19740463.