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General Overview of Infertility

Infertility, defined as being unable to become pregnant even though you have unprotected sex frequently for at least a year, affects 10 – 15 percent of couples in this country.

The condition may originate with either or both partners, or from a number of outside issues that inhibit conceiving.

Although most couples will eventually succeed in becoming pregnant with or without treatment, for those who don’t, there exist many safe and effective assisted reproductive treatments (ART) that improve the chances significantly.

ART covers a broad spectrum of procedures, depending on the cause of infertility.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is one of many.

What is In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)?

In the more straightforward ART procedures such as intrauterine insemination (IUI), sperm is deposited into the uterus and from that point, conception occurs as it normally would.

In vitro fertilization’s (IVF) occurs first in a laboratory, combining eggs and sperm outside of the uterus and waiting for an embryo (s) to develop; once that happens, the embryos are then placed in the uterus to grow. The number of embryos transferred generally depends on the age of the egg donor and how many eggs are gathered.

IVF, now a widely recognized sequence of procedures for the treatment of infertility, was initially known for producing “test-tube babies,” indicating that the fetus was conceived outside the mother’s womb. A truly innovative process, the first successful birth using this method was in England in 1978 and touted throughout the modern world: today it is used effectively for thousands of women.

When Is In Vitro Fertilization Used?

IVF can be used to treat infertility for the following difficulties:

  • Fallopian tubes that are obstructed or impaired
  • Male infertility (decreased sperm count or inability of sperm to move normally)
  • Fallopian tubes that have been removed, blocked or damages
  • Female ovulation disorders (infrequent or no), uterine fibroids or early ovarian failure
  • Antibodies harmful to sperm or eggs
  • Endometriosis
  • Male and/or female genetic disorders
  • Infertility with no clear cause
  • Preservation of eggs for later use

Couples unable to become pregnant are usually advised to first try less invasive methods before turning to IVF.

What is Involved in In Vitro Fertilization?

Below are the six fundamental phases of IVF (In some cases, additional steps may be necessary):

#1. Prescribed fertility medications to stimulate multiple egg production (desired due to non-development or fertilization of some).

#2. Transvaginal ultrasound for examination of ovaries and blood test to check hormone levels.

#3. Retrieval of eggs through a minor surgical process in which ultrasound imaging directs a hollow needle attached to a suction device through the pelvic cavity for egg removal.

#4. Sperm sample taken from male to combine with the eggs retrieved from female.

#5. Insemination, in which sperm and eggs are intermingled and stored together to stimulate fertilization. (Once this occurs, the fertilized eggs are considered embryos.)

#6.  Within three to five days following retrieval and fertilization of eggs, a catheter/small tube is inserted into the uterus to convey eggs into the uterus; if successful, implantation generally occurs anywhere from six to ten days following egg retrieval.

Does In Vitro Fertilization have Side Effects?

As with most medical procedures, IVF carries potential side effects, typically the following mild ones:

  • Leakage of a small quantity of clear or bloody fluid right after the procedure
  • Breast tenderness, due to higher estrogen levels
  • Mild cramping and/or bloating
  • Constipation

Fertility medications that are used as part of the IVF process may also cause side effects, including the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Hot flashes
  • Bloating
  • Ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome (OHSS), swollen and painful ovaries caused by an excess of hormone medication in the system/occurs rarely.  The small number of women who develop OHSS, may experience rapid weight gain, abdominal pain, blood clots in legs, decreased urination, vomiting, and shortness of breath.

More serious side effects rarely occur, but should you experience any of the following, contact your health care provider immediately:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Decreased urinary frequency
  • Acute stomach pain/bloating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Ten+ pound weight gain in less than five days
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Blood in urine
  • High fever more than 100.5 °F/38 °C

Considerations Before Turning to In Vitro Fertilization

A substantial physical, financial, and emotional commitment is required for those considering IVF; psychological and emotional stress is common, particularly should the procedure be unsuccessful, have complications, or require more than one attempt.

Important issues that should also be addressed in advance of undergoing IVF include talking with your physician about the likelihood of damage that may transpire during the retrieval of eggs; the possibility of a multiple pregnancy or miscarriage; cost; and the number of embryos that will be created or transferred.

Should the use of donor sperm, eggs, or embryos be involved, talk with a health care professional who has experience in dealing with the legal and psychological issues.

ReUnite RX is proud to assist couples and individuals undergoing fertility treatments with our need-based assistance program. Active or veteran military members automatically receive a 25% discount with our assistance program. To learn more, visit ReUnite RX.