What is ICSI?
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is an additional step to the IVF process. With IVF, the washed sperm sample is allowed to fertilize the egg in a dish without assistance. With ICSI, the embryologist will take a single sperm to inject into the cytoplasm of the egg. Taking the extra step removes the need for the sperm to penetrate the egg naturally. Patients using IVF usually do not need ICSI. However, some infertile men are ideal candidates for the procedure.
ICSI helps with low sperm count
For starters, ICSI improves the chances of fertility for men with severely low sperm count. Known as oligospermia, men with lower than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen will need additional help. Low sperm count can happen due to hormonal imbalances or physical conditions like varicocele. Sometimes, the IVF cycles fail without assistance. ICSI can be the extra step men with low sperm counts need for success.
It also helps with no sperm count
Low sperm count means that men still have a slight chance of a natural pregnancy. But what about those with no sperm count? Yes, some men can produce no sperm in the seminal fluid. The sperm is often in the testes but cannot leave. This condition is called azoospermia. Azoospermia happens for men whose testicles have not yet descended, a vasectomy, or unsuccessful vasectomy reversal. Injury to the area, certain cancers, or cysts can also mean no sperm count. In this case, a fertility doctor extracts the sperm directly from the testes then uses ICSI to improve the chances of success.
ICSI works around irregular sperm behavior
In some cases, the sperm may behave unusually. For example, those with poor sperm motility, meaning speed, or sperm shape, can fail to fertilize the egg. In rare cases, the sperm can have trouble attaching to the egg. Others may be unable to penetrate the cell walls. If the fertility specialist observes these behaviors, ICSI can help.
Failed IVF cycles may benefit as well
IVF is an effective procedure with many success rates. However, there is a chance that an IVF cycle can fail. Statistics estimate that 1 in 4 cycles would lead to a live birth. In some cases, male infertility can drop these figures even more. If a couple has had multiple IVF failures, ICSI can rule out any anomalies during the fertilization process.
Does ICSI work?
Both IVF and ICSI have fantastic success stories. But remember, no procedure is 100% effective. That said, couples who tried ICSI have higher fertilization rates. These couples will also have increased success versus previously failed IVF cycles. The success rates in no way mean that ICSI is better than IVF. For men with generally healthy sperm, IVF via natural means will work just as well. Those who struggle with fertility and need additional help, however, will see the benefits of ICSI.
ICSI can make the difference
For some, the extra step in the lab can make all the difference. Men with severe infertility can benefit from placing just one sperm into the egg for fertilization. This step can improve pregnancy, particularly for failed IVF cycles. A reproductive specialist will provide all the options for men or couples trying IVF. Make sure to raise the idea of ICSI to see if the procedure will be the right fit.