In vitro fertilization (IVF) has come a long way since the world’s first “test tube baby” was born in 1978. Since then, IVF has evolved from a mysterious cure for infertility to a well-known and well-respected practice. Additionally, IVF has advanced scientifically to the point that it can overcome many more fertility issues than just blocked fallopian tubes, the impetus behind its original discovery. Here are five fertility problems that modern IVF can rectify.
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Ovulation occurs when the ovaries release a follicle into the fallopian tubes to be fertilized by sperm. Problems with ovulation are a common cause of infertility — and one that IVF can often overcome. Several factors can contribute to ovulation issues, including hormonal imbalances, stress, physical activity, diet, and structural problems, such as ovarian cysts. IVF can work around these issues by using medication to induce follicle production.
Endometriosis is a condition wherein the tissue lining the uterus, called the endometrium, appears outside the uterus. In addition to pain and scarring, endometriosis often causes infertility. However, in vitro fertilization has had significant success in helping women with endometriosis become pregnant. IVF circumvents this issue by removing the egg from the abnormal endometrial environment, allowing for fertilization in a controlled environment. IVF medications can also stop existing endometrial tissue from growing or can even shrink it.
Low Sperm Count
IVF doesn’t just overcome female infertility issues; it can also address male infertility problems such as low sperm count. In an IVF environment, ICSI, or intracytoplasmic sperm injection, has shown promising results. In this process, scientists use specialized tools and equipment designed for micromanipulation as well as an inverted microscope. These tools allow embryologists to choose and retrieve individual sperm with a needle especially designed for ICSI. The needle then perforates the egg’s outer shell and membrane to inject that sperm directly into the egg’s cytoplasm, or its inner portion.
Fallopian Tube Blockages
The fallopian tubes of infertile women commonly have structural problems, including blockages, that prevent them from successfully channeling an egg from the ovaries for fertilization. Causes of these issues may include endometriosis, an ectopic pregnancy, C-section complications, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
When standard therapies fail to correct these problems, IVF can work around them by allowing the egg to avoid this pathway in the first place. Eggs are harvested directly at their source and fertilized outside the body before they are implanted directly in the uterus, bypassing the fallopian tubes entirely.
Owing to conditions such as uterine fibroids and endometrial polyps, the uterus of some women may not provide an environment conducive to fertilization. Their uteruses may otherwise be capable of developing a fertilized embryo, but they present naturally insurmountable obstacles to fertilization. IVF can overcome these obstacles by handling the fertilization process outside the uterus and away from whatever problems are preventing it.
To the relief of many modern parents, IVF has advanced to the point that it now can work around a long list of fertility problems, both male and female. Although IVF is still considered a last resort in fertility treatments owing to its substantial cost, its efficacy continues to grow.