In vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment is a form of assisted reproductive technology (ART). During IVF treatment, a woman's eggs are combined with a man's sperm outside the body, then implanted in the uterus after an embryo forms. In vitro fertilization is one of the more effective fertility treatments.
A couple may seek out IVF treatment if they find that they cannot get pregnant any other way. The method is commonly used when a woman's fallopian tubes are blocked, if she has trouble ovulating, or if she suffers from endometriosis, a condition where the lining of the uterus grows in other areas inside the body. IVF treatment can also be used in cases where the man is infertile, using a sperm donor. It can be performed using an egg donor as well.
In order to start IVF treatment, a woman usually takes a drug that stimulates the ovaries into producing several eggs. Typically, the woman must inject the drugs daily by herself or with her partner's help. As the eggs develop, they will be monitored by her doctor, usually through blood tests and ultrasounds. If an egg donor is being used, she will have to undergo the same procedure.
When the eggs have reached maturity, a doctor will remove them from the ovaries using a needle that is inserted into the vaginal wall. The woman may be sedated or have local anesthetics during the procedure. For a few weeks following the removal, she may feel some pain and pressure in the area.
The next step in IVF treatment involves combining the eggs with a man's sperm. Special equipment is used to make sure the eggs become fertilized. In some cases, a single sperm may be injected directly into each egg in order to ensure fertilization. After they are fertilized, the eggs are left to develop into embryos for several days.
Once the embryos consist of two to four cells, they are ready to be inserted into a woman's uterus. The embryos are placed into a fluid and put into the uterus through a catheter. Most of the time, as many as four embryos are placed in the uterus to improve the chance of one actually implanting itself on the uterine wall.
IVF treatment is not without its risks. Since several embryos are usually implanted, a woman can end up carrying two or more babies at one time. Pregnancy complications, such as early delivery or miscarriage are more likely when more than one fetus is involved. Other risks of the treatment include ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome, which is usually accompanied by pain in the abdomen, bloating and vomiting.