Two fertility treatments commonly used to assist couples who are having difficulty becoming pregnant are intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). Here is an overview and comparison of these two procedures.
In the IUI procedure, mobile sperm which have been collected and processed in a lab are inserted directly into the uterus at the time when the ovulation has occurred and an egg is in the fallopian tube. To prepare for this procedure, the patient is monitored for ovulation either using an ovulation test or by using imaging that allows the doctor to view the ovaries and egg growth. In some cases, a patient is given medication to stimulate the ovaries to produce several eggs at once. IUI is usually performed a day or two after ovulation is detected.
The IUI procedure can be performed in the doctor’s office and no pain relievers are needed. After the procedure, the patient goes about her daily routine for about two weeks before starting to test for pregnancy. If IUI is not successful the first time, it is possible to try again.
IVF consists of several stages and is more physically demanding than IUI. The IVF process involves collecting mature eggs from the ovaries (egg retrieval) and then fertilizing them with collected and processed sperm in a lab. Egg retrieval does involve mild anesthesia and carries a risk of damage to the bowel or bladder. About two to six days after egg retrieval, the embryos are implanted in the uterus. Embryos left over from the procedure can be frozen and stored for use in future cycles, but the couple will need to determine what to do with frozen embryos left over at the end of the treatment.
IVF does have higher success rates per cycle than IUI. However, IVF is much more expensive per cycle, so patients who are candidates for IUI often try it first. Couples considering IVF or IUI should consult their doctor for advice on which treatment may be right for them, based on medical history, age, and other factors.