IVF treatment

Infertility means the inability to naturally conceive a child and couples are generally considered to have fertility problems if they don’t fall pregnant after one year of trying.  Assisted Reproductive Technology, otherwise known as ART refers not only to IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) but also to other procedures which are usually combined with fertility drugs to increase success rates.  (See other types of infertility treatment).

In Vitro Fertilisation literally means ‘fertilisation in glass’, and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is one of the techniques used to help couples have a baby.  IVF involves stimulating a woman’s ovaries to produce lots of follicles and eggs then surgically removing an egg from her ovaries and fertilising it with sperm in a dish in a laboratory. The fertilised egg, or embryo, is then placed back into the woman's uterus for a normal pregnancy to follow.

The term IVM (in vitro maturation) refers to ‘immature’ eggs which are removed from the ovaries and put in a laboratory to mature before being fertilised. This eliminates the need for so many drugs to mature the eggs before removing them.

The IVF technique was jointly developed in the 1970s by a biologist, Dr Robert Edwards, and gynaecologist, Dr Patrick Steptoe so that women who were unable to get pregnant due to blocked or diseased uterine tubes could realise their dream of motherhood.  IVF and other ART procedures are now used to help couples become parents who are unable to do so via natural conception for reasons ranging from endometriosis (cells which are normally found in the lining of the woman’s uterus growing in other parts of the reproductive system) to low/poor quality sperm.

Nevertheless, success rates for IVF are not very high, and in many cases IVF raises would-be parents’ hopes while taking them on a highly charged, emotional rollercoaster ride, not least if several attempts need to be made, and if miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies (when the fertilised egg implants outside of the uterus) occur.

It would appear that the success rate of IVF is down to the age of the woman more than anything - the younger the woman is the healthier her eggs which obviously increases the chance of success, but each case is unique and a woman aged 43 could just as easily be as fertile as a younger woman in her twenties.

IVF success rates vary country to country, and clinic to clinic.  In the UK, for example, an estimated 12,000 babies are born each year through IVF but statistics say it is successful in less than 25% of cases.


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