Learning About In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

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What is it?

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a procedure that's used to help you become pregnant. During IVF, eggs and sperm are brought together in a lab to allow the sperm to fertilize an egg.

With IVF, you can use any combination of your own eggs and sperm and donor eggs and sperm.

After IVF, one or more fertilized eggs (embryos) are placed in the uterus. Any embryos that implant in the uterus may result in pregnancy and the birth of one or more babies.

Why is it done?

IVF may be a treatment choice if you have:

  • Missing or blocked fallopian tubes.
  • Severe endometriosis.
  • A partner with low sperm counts.
  • Infertility that can't be explained and has lasted a long time.
  • A low number of eggs.
  • Irregular menstrual periods or problems with releasing an egg (ovulation).

Other reasons you may choose IVF include:

  • You had surgery to reverse a tubal ligation ("having your tubes tied"), and it didn't work.
  • You had artificial or intrauterine insemination, and it didn't work.
  • You want to test for inherited disorders before embryos are transferred.
  • You plan to use donor eggs or donor sperm.
  • You plan to have someone else (a surrogate) carry the baby.

How is it done?

IVF is done in stages over several weeks. These include:

  • Ovarian stimulation. You will likely need hormone treatment to make your ovaries produce eggs. You'll get tests to keep track of the progress.
  • Egg retrieval. You'll get medicine to mature your eggs. After the eggs are mature, they are collected. You'll probably be asleep for this procedure.
  • Sperm collection. Sperm are collected by masturbation or another method. Sperm may be frozen until they are needed.
  • Fertilization. The eggs and sperm are placed in a dish for fertilization. One to four of the fertilized eggs are placed in the uterus. If there are extra fertilized eggs, you may choose to have them frozen.

How well does it work?

The number of people who have babies after IVF varies. Success depends on different things, such as:

  • Age. If you are 34 or younger, you have a higher chance of success. After age 35, your chances go down.
  • Cause of infertility. Problems with the reproductive system can cause infertility. For instance, there may be problems with ovulation or the sperm.
  • Pregnancy history. Someone who has already had a live birth is more likely to have a successful procedure than someone who hasn't given birth before.
  • Own eggs versus donor eggs. If you are older than 40, you may choose to use donor eggs. This can greatly improve your chances of giving birth to a healthy baby.
  • Frozen embryos versus fresh embryos. Donor-frozen embryos (that are thawed) are less likely to result in a live birth than donor-fresh (newly fertilized) embryos.

What are the risks?

IVF may increase the risks of:

  • Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. This syndrome is linked to hormone treatment. Your doctor will watch your hormone levels during treatment to help lower this risk.
  • Multiple pregnancy. If you are older than 35, you may choose to have more embryos transferred than someone younger would. This may give you the best chance of carrying a healthy pregnancy. But it also increases your chance of multiple pregnancy, which may be risky for you and the babies. Talk to your doctor about what's best in your case.
  • Birth defects. There may be a higher risk for babies conceived by IVF. Talk with your doctor about these possible risks.

What can you expect as you recover?

Most of the time, recovery is short and you don't need a hospital stay. But IVF procedures can be painful and stressful. Depending on your condition, you may need to avoid some activities or rest in bed for a few days.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.