In Vitro Fertilization: How It Works
Posted: Sep 15, 2014
In vitro fertilization refers to a process in which eggs and sperm are collected, eggs are fertilized outside of the womb, and the fertilized eggs are then reinserted via the cervix. The procedure is designed to emulate the results of the natural conception process, and as a result, it is important to understand that process in order to understand IVF.
When natural conception takes place, an egg is released from the ovary by way of a natural process known as ovulation. The egg then descends from the ovary via the Fallopian tubes and into the uterus. If sperm are present, the egg may be fertilized in the Fallopian tube. If the egg is fertilized, it will attach to the wall of the uterus and develop into a fetus.
In vitro fertilization bypasses the fertilization of the egg in the Fallopian tubes. This is done by stimulating the growth of eggs through the use of hormones. When the eggs are mature, they are removed using a minor surgical procedure, most commonly an ultrasound guided retrieval using a syringe.
The mature eggs are then put in a petri dish—a type of shallow dish used by physicians and biologists in order to carry out a variety of tasks. The partner’s sperm, which has been collected prior to the egg retrieval, is then added to the dish to expose the eggs to the sperm. The dish is kept at an optimal temperature for fertilization. Some hours later, the physician or lab technician will examine the contents of the dish to determine whether or not fertilization has taken place.
The fertilized eggs then remain in the dish for approximately the same amount of time that a fertilized egg would remain in the fallopian tubes. This allows the fertilized eggs to further develop, until they are ready for the conditions of the uterus. This mimics the natural process of conception. Once the eggs have reached the status of early embryos, they are then inserted into the womb.
This insertion is done using a small catheter. The vaginal walls are held open with the aid of a speculum, and the catheter is inserted into the uterus via the cervix. This part of the procedure is generally not any more uncomfortable than a regular exam or a PAP smear. Clinics will usually have a policy regarding the number of potential embryos inserted. Any additional embryos may be preserved utilizing cryogenics so that the couple may use them later, or in the event that they do not conceive from the initial attempt.
Commonly, an IVF clinic will have a policy regarding the number of in vitro fertilization attempts they will carry out prior to looking for other causes of infertility. IVF procedures, in the absence of other unanticipated problems with fertility, can be extremely effective most patients are able to conceive the first or second time that they attempt IVF. IVF may use sperm and eggs from the couple conceiving, or can use donor sperm and eggs.
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