Infertility is a major problem many couples have to deal with. Fortunately, there are several technologies developed to help women become pregnant. In vitro fertilization is one of them.
Also referred to as IVF, in vitro fertilization is the manual procedure that combines a mature egg cell with male sperm in a laboratory dish. If successfully done, the embryo is placed in the woman`s uterus. Still, the procedure is not as simple as it looks like and involves multiple stages.
Initially, an exhaustive evaluation of the fertility status is made so that the in vitro fertilization to be considered a viable option or not. If the answer is positive, the procedure can begin. Basically, the in vitro fertilization consists in five steps as presented below.
1. Monitoring and stimulating the development of healthy eggs in the ovaries. In order to control the egg ripening timing and increase the chance of multiple eggs during one woman`s cycle, specific fertility medications are prescribed by the doctor. This ovulation induction method is useful because some eggs do not develop or fertilize after retrieval, so more eggs mean more chances of success.
2. Collecting the eggs. Eggs are extracted from the ovaries through a hollow needle. The procedure is named follicular aspiration and uses ultrasound imaging to guide the hollow needle in the pelvic cavity. After this minor surgery some women may feel cramping, fullness or pressure.
3. Preparing the sperm for fertilizing the egg. The sperm is generally obtained through ejaculation.
4. Insemination process. The sperm and eggs are placed together in special incubators which provide ideal conditions to enable fertilization. Intracytoplasmic sperm injection is used if low fertilization rate is expected. Through this method a special instrument injects a single sperm into the egg so the probability to reach fertilization increases. The entire insemination process is carefully monitored in order to confirm if the eggs achieve fertilization and cell division starts. If the process is successful, the eggs are considered embryos and the in vitro fertilization can be continued.
5. Transferring embryos into woman`s uterus. From one to six days after the eggs have been fertilized, the embryos are transferred into the uterus. A speculum is inserted into the vagina in order to expose the cervix and a catheter places a specific number of embryos into the womb. For this stage, the embryos are suspended in fluid. The transfer can be guided by ultrasound and women usually do not experience pain.
After the steps described above, the wait begins. The success rate of in vitro fertilization depends on various factors, especially patient characteristic, treatment approach, while the risks of the general procedure are also to be considered.