What is IVF?
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a reproductive technology in which an egg is removed from a woman, joined with a sperm cell from a man in a test tube (in vitro).It is an assisted reproductive technique.
The Centre for Disease Control defines assisted reproductive technology (ART) as all fertility treatments in which both eggs and sperm are handled, e.g. in vitro fertilization (IVF); but not intrauterine insemination. Intrauterine insemination involves just handling the sperms.
IVF has gained massive popularity within the last decade across the globe, including the developed and developing world. ‘In vitro’ means outside the body while ‘in vivo’ means inside the body. It is a type of assisted reproductive technique (ART).
The process involves stimulating the ovulation process of a woman and removing an egg (ovum) from her body. The egg is then fertilized with sperm from her husband or a donor outside the body and grown for some days. The fertilized egg is then implanted into her, if her body can sustain the growth of the baby otherwise, the fertilized egg would be implanted in the body of a surrogate mother.
This treatment is one of the different invasive ways of achieving a pregnancy in females that are finding it hard to get pregnant. Assisted reproductive technique is banned in some countries. Some cultures also feel that this is science manipulating the forces of the universe and women who undergo such treatments are often frowned upon. It is quite expensive, so it is only utilized as a last resort. The first ever successful baby from IVF was in 1978 called Louise Brown. A physiologist called Robert G. Edwards developed the treatment and was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2010. Women who have been finding it difficult to get pregnant can now have children through this treatment.
When should IVF be used?
- IVF is often indicated when women have damaged or blocked Fallopian tubes, making them unable to get pregnant through normal ‘in vivo’ methods (sexual intercourse). Younger women are more likely to get pregnant through IVF, for older women donor eggs could be used.
- Women with ovulation disorders, premature ovarian failure, endometriosis
- Unexplained causes of infertility
- Genetic disorders
- If a partner has abnormal shape and size of sperms, low count, weak poorly mobile sperms, IVF may be an option
Side effects IVF
Although some women resume normal activity within 24 to 48 hours of the procedure, some have side effects such as:
- Passing a small amount of clear or blood-tinged fluid after the procedure
- Mild cramping, mild bloating, constipation or breast tenderness
More severe side effects include but not limited to:
- Pelvic pain
- Bloody urine
- Heavy vaginal bleeding
- A fever over 38 °C
Predictors of success
Age used to be number one predictor of success, the older (above 36 years), the less likely and the younger the more likely to succeed. But new studies have shown that hormone levels, quality and number of eggs, sperm quality, thickness of the lining of the womb, reproductive history of the woman, for instance previous pregnancies also play a role.
Patients that smoke tobacco, who are overweight, run marathons, highly stressed or consume a lot of alcohol find it harder to get pregnant even through IVF. Dietary deficiencies, unhealthy digestive system, caffeine intake may also reduce the chances of getting pregnant through IVF. From these, you will notice lifestyle modifications play a significant role in improving outcome.
Some complications arise from the use of IVF treatment. Users of IVF treatments tend to give birth to three or more children at once. This difficulty occurs because there are multiple embryos transferred when treating. Some countries restrict the amount of embryos transferred as a method of population control. Multiple births usually lead to premature labour and low birth weight babies with their attending complications.
Other complications include:
Ectopic pregnancies – baby implanted outside the womb, probably in the tubes
Ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome in which the ovaries become swollen and painful,
Egg retrieval procedure complications such as bleeding, infection, or damage to the bowel, bladder or a blood vessel; and stress (financial, physical, emotional).
It is suggested there may be a link between certain medications used to stimulate egg growth and the development of a particular type of ovarian tumor, but more recent studies do not support these findings even though we are seeing women with unsuccessful repeat IVFs developing cancer of the breast and ovaries. Some birth defects may also occur in the form of heart defects, cleft palate, and esophageal disorders.
IVF provides a reliable alternative for individuals that find it hard to get pregnant. It is also seen as a way out for couples that have found it relatively hard to make babies. Some countries have some restrictions on IVF as well as cultural views; however, IVF is relatively accepted in most parts of the world. The cost of the treatment makes it the last resort for couples trying to get pregnant.
What is intrauterine insemination?
Intrauterine insemination is a process in which sperm is collected, specially prepared and the fastest moving is placed in the womb using a thin plastic tubing. This process is performed in time to coincide with ovulation, so it is imperative that you know your menstrual cycle. Sometimes you may be given medicines to increase the chances of conception. This process is also known as artificial insemination
To treat male factor infertility, women who have problems with their cervical mucous, and couples with unexplained infertility.
As with most medical and surgical procedures, there are potential risks to having an IVF. It is best to try lifestyle modifications, garner enough support, and know the risks, complications and success rates then decide how far you are willing to go before embarking on this journey. It is important to understand that pregnancy rates are not the same as live birth rates when predicting IVF success rates. Remember you have options.
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Wishing you good health and happiness,