IUI or IVF: Which Fertility Treatment Is Right for You?

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Infertility can be a difficult, emotional and confusing experience. There is so much information on fertility treatments to digest, and from so many sources. Not to mention complex terminology and an alphabet soup of abbreviations. Understanding your options can be overwhelming at best. Let’s break it down to help you understand your options.

Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)

Assisted reproductive technology, or ART, is the overall term for fertility procedures that help a woman become pregnant. Between 1987 and 2015, 1 million babies were born in the United States through the assisted reproductive technologies, according to the U.S. Society of Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART). There are a variety of ART procedures your doctor may recommend.

Intrauterine Insemination (IUI)

Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is the simplest and least expensive method of assisted reproduction. It is done on an outpatient basis and typically only takes a few minutes. While a woman is ovulating, doctors use a catheter, or flexible tube, to place washed sperm directly into a woman’s uterus.

Although a normal ejaculate may contain millions of sperm, only a small percentage of the sperm reach the fallopian tubes. The goal of IUI is to create a higher concentration of sperm in the fallopian tubes to increase the likelihood of fertilizing an egg.

IUI can use sperm from a male partner or a donor. It can be is often combined with superovulation medicine to increase the number of available eggs.

When is IUI used?

IUI is often recommended to couples who have been trying to conceive for at least one year and have no known reasons for their infertility. It may also be selected as a fertility treatment in circumstances such as:

  • Low sperm count and/or low sperm mobility
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Use of donor sperm

Use of donor sperm

IUI involves processing a semen sample in a laboratory to separate the sperm from the seminal fluid. The processed sperm is then directly injected into a woman’s uterus through a catheter and involves no anesthesia. This process maximizes the number of sperm cells that are placed in the uterus and increases the possibility of conception.

Usually the IUI is scheduled 24-48 hours after ovulation is detected.

How successful is IUI?

Younger women usually have higher rates of success compared to women over age 35. The average success rate for IUI ranges from five to 20 percent per cycle.

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is the most common type of assisted reproductive treatment (ART). During IVF, eggs and sperm are fertilized in a laboratory dish and then transferred to a woman’s uterus.

When is in vitro fertilization used?

IVF is often recommended when:

  • A woman’s reproductive age is advancing
  • A woman’s egg supply is low
  • A woman's fallopian tubes are missing or blocked
  • A woman has severe endometriosis
  • A man has low sperm counts
  • IUI has not been successful

IVF can be done using donor eggs for women who cannot produce their own eggs. Due to its high success rate, IVF has been used more frequently in recent years as a first line of therapy for all causes of infertility.

How does IVF work?

During IVF, a woman’s cycle is monitored and stimulated before eggs are extracted and sperm are allowed to fertilize them in a laboratory. The fertilized eggs undergo embryo culture for two to six days. Then one or more is transferred into a woman's uterus, hopefully leading to a successful pregnancy.

These procedures are done on an outpatient basis and require only a short recovery time.

How successful is IVF?

IVF success depends on many factors. Two of the most important are a woman’s age and whether she is using her own eggs. Your fertility specialist will work with you to help you understand your ideal treatment approach and chance of success.

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Alisha Pinkerton, MPAS, PA-C

Alisha Pinkerton, MPAS, PA-C, is a certified physician assistant at Penn Fertility Care – Lancaster General Health, Lancaster General Health Physicians. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Pittsburgh and her Master of Physician Assistant Studies from Chatham College. Alisha has practiced in both infertility and OB-GYN, and is dedicated to providing compassionate care to her patients.

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