At this moment there are more than a million infertile couples in India trying for a conception.IVF (in vitro fertilization) or ‘test tube baby’ is the magic word for infertile couples desperately desirous of a child. Through this technology which is a boon to mankind, many who had no chance of having their own child, are now proud parents. Though by IVF a couple has up to a 60% chance of success, the success rate may vary from couple to couple and may not be the same for all couples.
This article attempts to answer some of the frequently asked questions about IVF clarify certain aspects of IVF- for example, which group of patients need IVF, what happens in an IVF treatment cycle and why all patients do not get pregnant after IVF treatment?
Which group of patients need IVF?
Infertility investigations usually start once the couple has had one year of unprotected regular intercourse. However, it is advisable to investigate and treat earlier if there are known predisposing factors such as age of female partner greater than 35 years, menstrual irregularities, known endometriosis, pelvic infections, undescended testis in the male partner, or when there are pre-existing causes of infertility (eg, previous tubal surgeries). Problems in conception can occur when there is a problem in either the male or female partner. Investigations therefore focus on evaluating the sperm, uterus, egg development and maturation, and fallopian tubes.
Many couples are directly referred for IVF once these investigations are complete. These are patients with either tubal block on both sides or those with severe male factor infertility (< 5 million/ml sperm count). In other cases there are many treatment options available for eg, ovulation induction, intrauterine insemination and surgical treatment of infertility. Many couples conceive after such treatment, but some don’t. After a reasonable duration of trying such treatment these couples should be referred for IVF. The results of IVF are best when the lady is less than 35 years of age. Often much to our frustration, we are unable to help such couples either because of late referral or because the couples have waited too long to start IVF treatment. What happens in an IVF treatment cycle? Typically an IVF cycle consists of ovarian stimulation, egg collection, fertilization, embryo culture and embryo transfer. Ovarian stimulation consists of daily injection of hormones to the female partner with frequent clinical and ultrasonographic monitoring. This usually continues for 10-15 days. Egg retrieval is performed under anaesthesia through the internal route. There are no incisions or scars. The egg and sperm are either mixed (IVF) (Figure 1) or the sperm is injected into the egg (ICSI-intracytoplasmic sperm injection) (Figure 2). The fertilized egg forms the embryo. The embryo is cultured in the laboratory for 2-3 days (Figure 3). Two-three best embryos are selected and transferred into the womb (uterus) on the second or the third day. The pregnancy test is done 14 days after the day of embryo transfer. What is the success rate of this process? It all sounds so logical and definitive that one would expect success in every case! But unfortunately this is not the reality. One must understand that in the entire process of IVF each step is a hurdle that has to be negotiated successfully. For example, not all women respond to ovarian stimulation, not all eggs are mature, not all eggs fertilize to make good embryos and not all embryos implant. Therefore, there is an attrition or drop out at each stage. It is at the stage of implantation that there is a huge scope for further research. Implantation is the process where the uterus accepts the embryo which then develops to form the baby. Much work has been done on this aspect of IVF and medications such as steroids, aspirin, heparin, sildenafil are being tried to improve implantation rates. The overall success rate of IVF is about 35% per treatment cycle. In order words 4 out 10 , who otherwise had given up all hopes of parenting a child would conceive after attempting IVF. World over the success rate is highest in younger women where it can reach up to 60% per treatment cycle. In case of failure, IVF may be tried again and the cumulative pregnancy rate over 3 cycles may go as high as 70%. In order to give the optimum benefit to the patient it is essential that the infertile couple is offered the right treatment at the right time. It is also essential that patients understand the entire process of IVF. We are in an era of transparency and constant dialogue with patients. They should be involved in decision making. They must understand the strong points and drawbacks of the entire IVF process. Once there is complete understanding of the process a lot of stress associated with such intensive treatment will automatically be allayed.
Our goal is personalized, top quality care. We understand that no single treatment path is right for everyone. Our first step is to listen closely and asses your needs carefully. The panel of physicians discuss every case individually to provide the personal, specialized care you deserve.
Our view to treat the infertile couple
We know that facing infertility is the most stressful situation; we realize the pain and frustration that become an integral part of the lives of childless couple. At our center we make all the process from “Diagnostics to Treatment” as comfortable as possible. Once the cause is known for infertility, we undertake the appropriate course of action. Many problems can easily be corrected with medications or surgical procedures. For couples facing more difficult challenges our ART program ranks amongst the best. We know- when you enter in the program, you may not know the complete scientific procedure. You may feel helpless, confused and anxious. We simply believe that – Our goal is to provide you with the state-of-the-art medical case and an environment that fosters the best possible outcome.
Researches have shown that as many as one in six couples in their childbearing age remain infertile. Behind this surprising statistic lie the confusion and frustration of millions of couples, who seem unable to have a baby and are unsure what to do about it. With patience and proper medical care, however, most of these people can eventually become parents. Expert medical advice to these couples is the best option. This assists such couples to recognize the problem, sort out options and conceive through a proper medical treatment.
The process of evaluation takes one completed monthly cycle, and may include:
Hormonal assessment through blood work and ultrasounds
Semen analysis and culture
Hysterosalpingogram (HSG), an x-ray that detects blockages or malformations in the fallopian tubes.
Endometrial biopsy, which can detect any inflammation in the uterine cavity
Surgical evaluation and treatment including hysteroscopy and laparoscopy, which enables the physician to diagnose and correct problems in the uterus and pelvic cavity
Cycle monitoring, which involves hormone testing through blood work and ultrasounds
After evaluation of your needs, we develop a customized treatment plan based on your diagnosis, age and goals. The initial treatment options may include:
Ovulation induction using fertility medications
Timed intercourse cycles
Intrauterine inseminations (IUI)
Surgical treatment including hysteroscopy, laparoscopy, myomectomy, and removal of endometriosis
Reversal of tubal ligation.
In simple words infertility is defined as the inability to conceive. And this is the reason, it requires thorough diagnosis of both the partners. Once, this malady is diagnosed, there is every possibility that it could be treated successfully.
However, there are other factors as well like age, general health etc., that may affect the success of treatment.
At the same time, with technological advancements in the field of surgery and/or assisted reproductive technologies (ART), such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), majority of infertility cases can be treated successfully.
Infertility in women
The common cause of Infertility in women is disruption of ovulation symphony by disturbances in menstrual cycle. Instead of a regular cycle, the women suffering from infertility undergo irregular cycles. In the wake of this, menstrual history is considered to be the first instance of infertility, which one should seriously take care of and immediately consult the doctor.
The Menstrual Pattern is the simplest screening test to guide medical investigations.
The regular menstrual period: In this category, the periods are regular from month to month, beginning like clockwork every twenty-five days or every thirty-five days. The consistently irregular menstrual cycle, where one month you begin menstruating after twenty-five days, the next month after thirty-four, and the next in thirty, may indicate that you have fertility problem.
Irregular menstrual periods or Amenorrhea for six or more months: Irregular periods aren’t unusual, they affect about 30% of women in their reproductive years. The woman’s menstrual periods occur infrequently and at unpredictable intervals. Even in some of the cases, the menstruation at a period of time, may suddenly stop altogether.
Nonexistence of the menstrual period: If a women does not have menstruate even after the age of 16 years, which is considered to be the maximum limit to start menstruating, it is considered to be a serious condition. The cause of such conditions may include genetic abnormalities, congenitally deformed reproductive organs, delayed puberty, or a pituitary malfunction.
What is Ovulation?
Ovulation is the process in the menstrual cycle by which a mature ovarian follicle ruptures and discharges an ovum (also known as an oocyte, female gamete, or casually, an egg) that participates in reproduction. The entire process of ovulation is controlled by the hypothalamus of the brain and through the release of hormones secreted in the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland, Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH). A spike in the amount of FSH triggers ovulation and LH is released from the pituitary gland.
Causes of Infertility
There are various conditions that may cause infertility in the women. These conditions include the following:
It is a common medical condition in which the endometrial tissue, the tissue that normally lines the uterus, grows outside the uterus and attaches to other organs in the abdominal cavity such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Endometriosis is a progressive disease that tends to get worse over time and can reoccur after treatment.
The most common symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain. The pain often correlates to the menstrual cycle, but a woman with endometriosis may also experience pain that doesn’t correlate to her cycle. The other symptoms include abnormal menstrual bleeding and pain during or after sexual intercourse. Endometriosis can also cause scar tissue and adhesions to develop, that can distort a woman’s internal anatomy.
A laparoscopy, an outpatient surgical procedure, is necessary to confirm a diagnosis of endometriosis after a medical history review and pelvic exam. After the diagnosis, our physician will classify your condition as stage 1 (minimal), stage 2 (mild), stage 3 (moderate) or stage 4 (extensive). Based on the stage of the Endometriosis, the physician may decide the best treatment plan.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine abnormality that affects six to ten percent of women, who are in the reproductive age group. PCOS is a leading cause of infertility and also affects the woman’s cardiovascular health. The causes of PCOS are unknown. Researchers believe that the causes of PCOS may be insulin resistance and an imbalance of female hormones (estrogens and progestins, those important for the menstrual cycle) contribute to the development of this condition.
The symptoms of the disorder include acne, difficulty becoming pregnant (infertility), irregular menstrual periods, obesity, skin discolorations and unwanted hair growth or loss.
New medical researches have revealed different methods of treatment including insulin-reducing ovulation medication (clomiphene, glucophage, metformin), dietary changes (low glycemic diet) and surgery (ovarian drilling). Women who undergo treatment for PCOS, but are still unable to conceive naturally, often turn to assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF.
One of the more common causes of infertility is – blocked or damaged fallopian tubes. The fallopian tubes are necessary for picking up the egg, released from the ovary. It is in the inside of the fallopian tube that natural fertilization occurs. Scar tissue resulting from endometriosis or abdominal or gynecological surgery, such as bowel surgery, cesarean section or a ruptured appendix, can block an egg from entering or traveling down the fallopian tube to meet the sperm, preventing fertilization.
Such condition may cause infections including chlamydia, can damage the cilia, the tiny hairs lining the fallopian tubes that help transport the egg, often preventing the sperm and egg from meeting. One result of damaged cilia is an ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when an egg is fertilized but, due to the damaged cilia, it is unable to travel to the uterus, growing instead in the wall of the fallopian tube. This condition can result in rupture, internal bleeding and further tubal damage.
The physician reviews the complete history and does a complete pelvic exam to diagnose the tubal disorder. For the confirmatory diagnosis, additional tests such as hysterosalpingogram and laparoscopy are required and the exact course of treatment is decided on the basis of the condition.
In about one –third of the couples despite an extensive battery of tests, we are unable to find the cause. These couples are termed to be suffering from ‘unexplained ‘ infertility. Perhaps there is a problem with sperm –egg interaction. These couples may benefit from superovulation and IUI or IVF.
Infertility in men
In men, infertility generally is caused by a lack of sperm in the semen (azoospermia), deformed or structurally abnormal sperm, sperm that lack the ability to reach and fertilize a female egg (immotile sperm). Genetic, infection, testicular trauma, hormonal imbalance or exposure to radiation and certain medications are all causes of sperm production disorders.
Infertility normally occurs when there is a low sperm count, or problems with the motility (movement) or morphology (appearance or shape) of the sperm. Sperms that have poor motility, are often not able to reach the egg and therefore, fertilization does not occur. Abnormal sperms are sometimes unable to penetrate and fertilize the egg. Sperm DNA damage may interfere with conception as well as lead to a greater risk of miscarriage.
Any structural or anatomical problem that may block the path of sperm can cause infertility, by preventing fertilization to occur. Infertility related to structural and anatomical problems in the male anatomy may be caused by scar tissue, varicose veins or infection or, in some cases, the problems exist from birth.
In few cases, the immune system of the men develop antibodies that may attack the sperm and destroy their ability to fertilize the egg. Antibodies bind to specific parts of the sperm, such as the head or tail and, depending on the site of attachment and interfere with the movement of the sperm.