What is IVF? Is it Safe to Undergo IVF?

The history of IVF or in vitro fertilisation goes back over half a century. Over forty years ago, Sir Bob Edwards and Patrick Steptoe successfully undertook the world’s first IVF treatment that led to the birth of world’s first IVF baby, Louise brown, on 25th July 1978 at Oldham General Hospital. IVF now contributes to nearly two per cent of the live births in the UK.

Causes of Infertility

One in six couples will face difficulties when trying to conceive. At least a third of them will require assisted fertility treatments such as IVF. The difficulties when trying to conceive may arise from either male or female causes of infertility. Sometimes, there is no identifiable cause, which is referred to as unexplained infertility. The various female causes of infertility can be irregular ovulation or ovulatory dysfunction. This is commonly seen in women suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS, obesity and thyroid problems to name a few. In others, blockage of one or both fallopian tubes can result in difficulties when trying to conceive. In men, abnormal semen analysis may result in difficulties with getting pregnant. This may be due to low sperm count or low motility (sperm movement) or low normal morphology (sperm shape). This may be a result of lifestyle factors, medical illnesses or any treatments for such an illness, obesity, stress or exposure to chemicals in your immediate environment. Sometimes, there may be certain hereditary conditions, such as Klinefelter’s syndrome, which can lead to very low sperm count or, in rare cases, azoospermia.

What does IVF involve?

IVF or IVF/ICSI treatment involves controlled ovarian stimulation. You will be taking fertility medications to stimulate the development of multiple follicles. You go through a monitoring process of follicle tracking until the eggs are ready for harvesting. At this point you will undergo egg collection to harvest these eggs. Egg collection or egg retrieval is a minor operation done under sedation. Most women recover fairly quickly within a day or two. The eggs and sperm are then fertilised by IVF or are inseminated using intracytoplasmic sperm insemination or ICSI. The embryos are monitored every day. At the right stage, embryo transfer is done to replace one or more embryos. Embryo transfer is a minor procedure very similar to having a smear test.

Some of you may be opting for natural IVF. Unlike stimulated IVF, in natural IVF or natural IVF / ICSI, you do not take fertility drugs or injections for controlled ovarian stimulation. Hence, it is gentler as there are no side effects from fertility drugs and this avoids the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome or OHSS. Then there is also mild or modified IVF or IVF Lite. In mild IVF, modified IVF or IVF Lite, you do have to take stimulation drugs even though it may be a lower dosage compared to that in appropriately stimulated IVF or IVF/ICSI.

IVF Success Rates

The success rates of IVF and IVF/ ICSI have improved significantly over years. Almost two thirds of those who start the treatments should realise their dreams after four or more attempts. It has helped millions of couples worldwide in achieving parenthood. However, even after multiple attempts, there will be a few couples who may fail and have to face childlessness.

Millions of babies have been born worldwide as a result of IVF. As such, it is considered safe enough that fertility specialists can offer such treatments to those couples who are facing difficulties in conceiving or to same sex couples in helping build their families. During treatments, women may face side effects from fertility drugs. These are not life threatening, but can affect day to day quality of life. However, these are temporary and usually disappear once the fertility drugs have been stopped. Then there can be other risks of IVF such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome or OHSS, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or multiple pregnancy. Most of the studies about the health of babies born from IVF treatment have been largely reassuring.

With forty years of experience, it is safe to say that assisted fertility treatments like IVF or IVF /ICSI are safe. There is no reason to withhold these treatments from couples for whom this may be their only option for getting pregnant. On the other hand, it is only prudent to remain cautious and offer such treatments responsibly only to those where other options have been exhausted. To discuss your options, please get in touch with our London fertility clinic.