IVF stands for In-Vitro Fertilisation.
In-Vitro literally means 'in glass' and IVF is a process whereby sperm and oocytes (eggs) are put together in a dish in a laboratory in order that fertilisation might take place and produce an embryo. Both the egg and sperm are treated to improve the chance of fertilisation. Usually about 100,000 motile sperm are used to inseminate the egg. The sperm compete and a normal fertilisation is when the egg allows just one sperm to penetrate its shell (the zona pellucida).The embryo can then be replaced into the uterus in the hope that a pregnancy may result.
IVF treatment is most commonly used for women where the Fallopian tubes are blocked or severely damaged, and it is thought that surgery is unlikely to be helpful. By fertilising outside the body the fallopian tubes can be completely bypassed and the embryo replaced directly into the womb via the cervix. However, it may also be of value where sperm or egg quality is reduced, or where the infertility is 'unexplained' It might test the ability of the sperm and eggs to achieve fertilisation. Pregnancy rates are similar whatever the female diagnosis and are largely related to age and weight.
To increase the chances of success of IVF the ovaries are stimulated with drugs to produce multiple egg development. This may result in an excess of eggs and embryos. Replacing more than one may result in a multiple birth. There are increased pregnancy risks from multiple pregnancy. For this reason only the best one or two embryos are transferred into the uterus.
The ideal would be to replace the embryos one by one in different cycles. We do understand that patients may not have this view and that there is also a cost implication. In rare instances in women over 40 transfer of 3 embryos is allowed which is the legal maximum.
Further information about the IVF procedure itself is contained in the HFEA IVF leaflet. It may be possible to freeze spare embryos for later use if they are of sufficient quality (see the HFEA leaflet Freezing and storing embryos.
All couples have at least one or two preliminary consultation to discuss what treatment is best in their circumstances. A semen analysis will be needed before treatment and ideally before the first consultation, so that the results can be discussed.
The services of an independent counsellor are available and there is no charge for the first consultation. This is available through the Winterbourne Hospital. IVF and ICSI treatment is a time-consuming and stressful process, as well as being expensive, and many people benefit from the opportunity to discuss matters with a non-medical person who is familiar with what is involved.
It is our policy to screen all couples for HIV, Hepatitis B and C and Chlamydia. These are required by the HFEA prior to licensed treatment. The HIV test is looking for antibodies to the HIV virus which causes AIDS. It is extremely unlikely that any of our patients will have positive test results. Should this occur then the options will be discussed with the patient. The implications of these tests will be discussed fully before they are done. These tests are required before embryos may be stored in our storage tanks. This is to maximise the safety of embryo storage for all patients. Couples who do not wish to have these tests will need to discuss the alternative arrangements, which can be made.
When you are ready to start treatment you should let us know the first day of your period and we will arrange for you to have an ultrasound scan on approximately day 21 of the cycle prior to the treatment cycle. This scan will ensure that no cysts are present on your ovaries and that you are ready to start treatment.
Next the ovaries are stimulated to produce eggs. A variety of drugs can be used for this process and regimes may differ according to each woman's requirements. The Dorset Fertility Services most commonly use the regimes below:-
BUSERELIN This drug is called a GnRH agonist. It is given, usually as an injection daily or a nasal spray, one puff in each nostril three times a day. You will be advised to commence Buserelin EITHER on day 21 of the cycle before the treatment cycle OR day 1 of the treatment cycle. Buserelin is continued until the Pregnyl injection is given (see number 3 below). Buserelin has the effect of 'switching off' the woman's ovaries so that we can control precisely the development of the eggs. You should therefore only respond to the stimulant drugs and not your own hormones. It prevents premature natural ovulation occurring before the egg collection. After 10-14 days you will often have a bleed. An alternative similar drug, a GnRH antagonist (see below) can also be used. This starts after your stimulation drug and is used in some circumstances.
GONAL F, MENOPUR, or MERIONEL (Follicle Stimulating Hormone injections). Depending on the individual, one of these drugs will be given, by subcutaneous injection to stimulate multiple egg growth. These are hormone preparations, similar to the natural hormones that act on the ovary in a spontaneous cycle but much more powerful.
We will teach you to self-administer these drugs. They are easy to administer and similar to diabetic injections
These drugs are started once the Buserelin has done its initial work. The starting date will be given on your schedule. You will be asked to attend the hospital for an ultrasound scan to check the ovaries and womb, and, if this is satisfactory, the course of daily Follicle Stimulating Hormone injections will start, usually for about 10-14 days. It is very important to confirm with Centre staff before starting the injections. During this time scans and blood tests will be performed to check that the ovaries are responding and, if necessary, the dose of the injections may be adjusted.
CETROTIDE This drug is called a GnRH antagonist. It acts in a similar way to Buserelin but is taken during stimulation only. It blocks the LH surge that would otherwise make you ovulate. You need to take this daily from day 6 of your cycle at the same time as the stimulant drug. The antagonist cycle requires a scan on day 1 or 2 of the menstrual cycle before starting the stimulant drugs on day 2-3. Although you can use other hormone drugs to manipulate the menstrual cycle it is less easy to plan treatment in advance. It is useful in patients who are at increased risk of hyperstimulation.
Once the scans show that the ovaries have responded adequately you will need to give yourself an injection of PREGNYL or OVITRELLE. This injection has the effect of stimulating a final maturation phase in the egg and would eventually allow egg release (ovulation) approximately 40 to 48 hours later. The egg collection is timed for 35-6 hours when the eggs have matured but not been released. The timing of the injection is very important and needs to be given in the late evening. The Centre staff will confirm the time of injection and you will get written instructions. You will give this injection yourself.
Egg Collection is carried out 35-36 hours after the Pregnyl/Ovitrelle Injection. This is after the final maturation phase of the egg but well before they would naturally be released. This is carried out using ultrasound guidance and a general anaesthetic or sedation is necessary, but you can normally go home later the same day. The vaginal ultrasound probe is similar to the one you have already been monitored with. Egg collection is very safe. Although there are risks of perforation of blood vessel and bowel these are extremely rare. You may experience bleeding from the puncture point in the vagina. This should be less than a period and will quickly reduce to a brown loss. This bleeding will not affect the outcome.
Your partner will be asked to produce a semen sample on the same day. His appointment may be before or after the egg collection. He should abstain from ejaculation for 2 days beforehand. The sperm is then prepared by washing the seminal plasma off the sperm and processing the sperm so as to use the most motile fraction. The final preparation of sperm is placed beside the egg and sperm compete for the chance to fertilise. After 24 hours it is usually possible to see if fertilisation has occurred. It is important to realise that not all the eggs will show the signs of normal fertilisation. Very occasionally, none of the eggs will be fertilised. The embryologist will telephone you on the day after egg collection to tell you the egg news.
Embryo transfer is scheduled for two, three or 5 days after the egg collection. It is our policy to replace the best one or two embryos. Transfer of three embryos may only be considered for women over 40. It is important to discuss this number before your treatment starts to have an 'ideal plan'. The procedure is usually very simple, involving the passage of a fine tube through the cervix, high up into the uterine cavity, where the embryos are released in a small volume of fluid. An anaesthetic is rarely needed for this process. We ask you to come with a full bladder: this can make the procedure easier by 'tipping' the uterus in the right direction. The time required at the hospital is usually about 1 hour. Usually the catheter is guided into the middle of the womb under ultrasound control.
Luteal Support . After the egg collection the womb lining w, which has been stimulated by oestrogen needs progesterone to change it from proliferative endometrium to secretory endometrium. The embryo will only implant in secretory endometrium. To assist implantation luteal support is required. If luteal support is given the pregnancy rate improves. You need luteal support to maximise your chance. This is usually given in the form of progesterone or hCG. In a natural cycle the collapsed follicle starts to produce progesterone. In a stimulated cycle the hormone levels are far from normal and the corpus luteum will tend not to work as there is no stimulation. Stimulation of the corpus luteum by hCG allows it to make progesterone. More commonly however progesterone is given. This is usually in the form of vaginal pessaries (CRINONE and CYCLOGEST), tablets of micronized progesterone (such as uterogestan) or intramuscular progesterone (GESTONE)
After the Transfer
There is nothing that you could do to reduce your chance of pregnancy. There is no advantage in resting and our advice is to return to your normal activity. If you work; then go back to work. The embryo is very small and sticks to the womb wall (endometrium ) by surface tension. It does not implant until about 7 days after the egg collection. The mechanism of success or failure is whether implantation occurs. This is almost always dependant on the genetic capability of the embryo. Your womb having received appropriate oestrogen and progesterone stimulation will be ready. It is unusual for implantation failure to be caused by the womb and common for it to be caused by the embryo. Part of this is a natural mechanism preventing most genetically abnormal embryos from developing into an abnormal pregnancy.
It is important to have a pregnancy test within three weeks of the embryo transfer, even if you have had a light period. A urine test can be done 13-15 days after egg collection, which will give you the earliest indication of a possible pregnancy. This can be done at home or we can do the test for you. There would be an additional cost for this. A negative urine test, or a very light period, may yet give a positive test within a few days. Within 3 weeks of embryo transfer it should be clear whether an early pregnancy has been established. An ultrasound scan will be performed in the Fertility Centre 2-3 weeks later for further confirmation.
If the blood or urine test is negative or your period comes you will understandably be very disappointed. If you feel it would help to chat to someone, a member of the Fertility Centre team can always be contacted. When you feel ready we can make you an appointment to come for a follow-up consultation to discuss the future.
You may return to work when you feel well enough. Additional rest will not improve the chance of success.
Many people prefer to be at work the following day, others like to rest at home or take a break from work.
There is no evidence to show that rest increases your chances of pregnancy. You should carry on with your normal routine once you are discharged from hospital.
We know that nothing you do or do not do (including intercourse) following transfer makes any difference to whether or not you get pregnant. All normal activities can be resumed immediately you feel ready and time of work is usually unnecessary.
If you have any queries whatsoever regarding your treatment please do not hesitate to ask any member of the Fertility Team who will be pleased to help you at any time.
Before starting treatment, please ensure that you have been given the following information:-
It is also important to be aware of:
Many men feel rather left out as IVF treatment so obviously revolves around the woman.
You are welcome to attend with your partner at any time and many partners find the scans particularly interesting.
You will need to produce your sperm sample on the day of the operation to collect the eggs and we ask you to abstain from ejaculating for about 2 days before.
Throughout the treatment you and your partner will be a great comfort to each other.