IVF: What Are the Basics?

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IVF is a term you hear about everywhere these days.  From friends and colleagues to the radio DJ to Hollywood.  It is pervasive enough that there is likely some assumed knowledge in the general population.  We recognize that not everyone has the same fertility background, and in an effort to even the playing field, I will share some common questions and answers.

First, what is IVF?

IVF stands for in vitro fertilization and is meant to describe the process of fertilizing eggs outside of the body.  It is often used as a blanket term for multiple types of fertility treatments or assisted reproductive technology(ies) (ART).

Who uses IVF?

The short answer is everybody.  We see individuals and couples from all walks of life with every personal history you can imagine: single parents who are worried they started to build their family too late, couples who want to add another child to their family, religious and non religious individuals, young women and those of “advanced  maternal age”, those with a family history of an inherited condition they are trying to avoid. These are just a few examples.

Where do you start?

First, you have to choose an IVF clinic.  No matter the reason for seeking treatment, it must be done with an IVF provider.  

How’s it done?

The clinic will retrieve mature eggs from the woman/egg donor, and then combine the eggs with sperm from the man/sperm donor to fertilize them.  The options of when and how to fertilize an egg vary.

What if I am using IVF because I have an inherited condition we are trying to avoid?

This is the case for many of our couples.  The common term for this type of treatment is preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and these cases are special.  They require planning ahead of time by the PGD lab (where the samples are sent for testing) and need workup beforehand.  This workup often includes testing of family member samples, gathering of genetic reports and blood or saliva samples.  All of these are then sent to the lab for review and if possible, approval and acceptance of the case.  It is always a good idea to reach out to the PGD lab you will be using to make sure your questions are answered as these processes can be quite involved.

Do all fertility treatments require egg retrieval?

No, there are several fertility treatments that do not involve retrieval of eggs.  These include medications and artificial insemination procedures.  Speak with your physician about which procedure is right for you, as well as the benefits and risks of each.  For example, some treatments have a higher risk of a pregnancy with multiples.  

How many eggs can I expect?

This varies largely by age and an individual’s own hormonal and physiological specifications.  If doing embryo testing via PGS/PGD, which requires IVF, individuals are often looking to send a number of embryo samples to a lab in order to give themselves the best chances to find a healthy embryo.

So if IVF is in vitro fertilization,what is ICSI?

The acronym ICSI stands for intracytoplasmic sperm injection.  It involves taking a single sperm and aiding fertilization by placing it inside the egg, instead of letting multiple sperm compete for fertilization.  Utilized for many reasons, from male factor infertility, to being standard protocol for PGD, your physician can review the need for this added procedure for fertilization.

The scope of IVF and the testing that is available after a cycle are incredible and ever growing.  On behalf of those of us that work in this world, it is always okay to reach out with questions and concerns.  That is why we are here!

 

This post was written by Amy Jordan, Manager of Clinical Genetic Services and Senior Genetic Counselor at Reprogenetics! Thanks, Amy!

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About Author

Stephany Foster

Stephany Foster is the Associate Scientific Writer at Recombine, a genetic testing company based in New York City. She writes on topics spanning fertility, reproductive medicine, and recent advances in genomics. Stephany also writes about recently published research that Recombine presents at conferences and meetings around the globe. Before joining Recombine, Stephany interned at the George Church Lab at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Brown University with an A.B. in Biology in 2014.