In vitro fertilization, commonly known as IVF, is an assisted reproductive technology (ART) to help families achieve their dreams and goals. It is the process that entails extracting eggs, retrieving a sperm sample, and then manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. The embryo, or embryos, are then transferred to the uterus. Although briefly explained, the process is extremely complex and involves a series of procedures. The timeframe for one full cycle of IVF takes about three weeks but can take longer if the steps are split into different parts. The IVF procedure can be done using an individual’s own eggs and their partner’s sperm, or may involve eggs, sperm or embryos from a known or anonymous donor. For more information read The IVF Process.
IVF is used primarily to treat individuals who are suffering from infertility issues, whether that be from the male partner or female partner. Some conditions that warrant the use of IVF include blocked or damaged fallopian tubes, male factor infertility (including decreased sperm count or sperm motility), women with ovulation disorders, premature ovarian failure, uterine fibroids, women who have had their fallopian tubes removed, genetic disorders affecting fertility, and unexplained fertility. This method of ART is a great method for patients battling against infertility and provides patients the potential of becoming pregnant and conceiving child.
Other forms of ART include intrauterine insemination, intrafallopian transfer, and intracytoplasmic sperm injection. However, IVF is most effective form of ART and provides patients with the best chance of overcoming infertility. But exactly how effective is IVF and is it worth the risks? The purpose of this article to explain how effective IVF truly is and what the risks are of the procedure.
Success Rate of IVF
The overall success rate of IVF doesn’t depend on one particular aspect, but rather a number of factors. Some of these factors include maternal age, reproductive history, lifestyle factors, and the cause of infertility. It is also important to know there is a difference between pregnancy rates and live birth rates. Pregnancy rate refers to the rate of successful pregnancies and is the percentage of attempts that result in pregnancy. Live birth rate is the percentage of all attempts that lead to successful births. In other words, it is the pregnancy rate adjusted for miscarriages and stillbirths. The difference between these two outcomes is extremely important to know when reading about research about IVF success rates. Below are approximate live birth rates for each IVF cycle started in the United States:
- Women under age 35 = 41-43%
- Women ages 35-37 = 33-36%
- Women ages 38 to 40 = 23-27%
- Women ages over 40 = 13-18%
As mentioned, a lot of factors are in play in order to have a successful IVF experience. The younger the patient is, the more likely they are to get pregnant and give birth to a healthy baby using their own eggs during IVF. Women aged over 40 years are typically counseled to consider using donor eggs during IVF to increase the chances of success. The transfer of more developed embryos is also associated with higher pregnancy rates compared with less-developed embryos. Women who have previously given birth are more likely to get pregnant using IVF than women who have never given birth. Success rates are lower for women who have previously used IVF but did not get pregnant. Another factor affecting IVF success rates is the particular cause of infertility. Having a normal supply of eggs actually increases a patient’s probability of being able to get pregnant using IVF. Also, women who have severe endometriosis are less likely to get pregnant using IVF compared with women whose infertility is unexplained. Lastly, women who smoke typically have fewer eggs retrieved during IVF and may be linked to miscarrying more often. In fact, smoking can lower a women’s probability of a successful IVF by 50%. Another specific lifestyle factor that can decrease a woman’s chances of getting pregnant and having a baby is obesity. Use of alcohol, recreational drugs, excessive caffeine and specific medications can also be harmful.
Approximately 1 out of every 8 couples are affected by infertility in the United States. Since 1978, there has been over 5 million children conceived by IVF methods worldwide. Although IVF can be extremely rewarding, it does pose some potential risks. The use of IVF increases the risk of multiple births if more than one embryo is transferred to the uterus. Research also suggests that IVF may increase premature delivery and low birth weight risk. Another potential risk of IVF includes ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. This is a condition where the ovaries become swollen and extremely painful. There are also the risks associated with the egg-retrieval procedure, which includes bleeding, infection, or damage to the bowel, bladder, or a blood vessel. Lasty, the use of IVF can place a tremendous amount of stress on individuals. This is due to the financial, physical, and emotional burden that patients have to carry and can be draining. Patients undergoing IVF will definitely need to weigh the benefits vs. risks and must have continued support through the ups and downs of infertility treatment.
IVF is proven to be the most effective method of assisted reproductive technology and affords couples and individuals the chance to have a child. Although the patients age is the main factor in determining the success rate of IVF, there are many other aspects specific to the patient (both controllable and noncontrollable) that also play a role in the success rate of IVF. The method of IVF not only provides patients a possible rewarding outcome, but also carries a handful of risks. If a patient has been struggling with infertility for a long time, the knowledge that IVF is an option for them should afford them plenty of hope that they will be able to get pregnant and have a baby. The path of IVF may not be a short one, but with the right specialist and adequate support, it has the potential to end with the one thing they have always wanted.