Infertility treatments 101

12:0AM, Sep 24th 2013

Alex Antoniou

IVF is just one of the many treatments available to couples struggling with fertility

Women with age-related infertility may consider a donor egg.
Women with age-related infertility may consider a donor egg. (Getty Images)

We’ve all heard of IVF, but that’s just one of the assisted reproductive technologies available to the one-in-six Australian couples who are struggling to conceive today.

With names like GIFT and ZIFT, the choice of fertility treatments on offer can seem overwhelming – like something out of an episode of Star Trek.

So, to bring things back down to earth, here's our quick-glance guide to just some of the ways infertility (or sub-fertility) can be treated.

IUI (IntraUterine Insemination)
A fine tube containing best quality 'washed' and treated sperm is inserted into the woman's vagina through the cervix and into the uterus. The aim is to get the sperm closer to the site of fertilisation and either the partner's sperm or donor sperm is used.

Insemination is carried out during the most fertile part of the woman's cycle (determined by daily blood-hormone tests), sometimes two or three days in a row.

IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation)
Eggs are gathered from the woman's ovaries and mixed with sperm. Fertilisation takes place in a flat glass dish (not in a test tube as is the popular belief and ‘test tube baby’ terminology). The fertilised egg or embryo is then transferred into the woman's uterus.

It sounds simple, but a single treatment cycle can take between six weeks and two months and will include phases where you have to have injections every day and undergo regular ultrasounds.

The first baby conceived with a donor egg was born in Australia in 1983.

ICSI (IntraCytoplasmic Sperm Injection)
A technique that uses microinjection equipment to inject a single sperm directly into the centre of the egg. It means that men whose sperm quality or quantity was previously too poor for IVF can now have a chance of biologically fathering their children.

GIFT (Gamete IntraFallopian Transfer)
GIFT is similar to IVF except that fertilisation occurs inside rather than outside the body. Once egg collection is complete, the eggs are assessed by an embryologist and up to three of the 'best' are mixed with around a 100,000 ‘motile’ sperm. The eggs and sperm are then immediately placed in the woman's fallopian tube in the same operation. 

ZIFT (Zygote IntraFallopian Transfer)
ZIFT is a mixture of IVF and GIFT – fertilisation occurs in the laboratory, just as it does with IVF. Three zygotes (an egg after fertilisation and before cell division has started) are then transferred to the woman's fallopian tube much sooner than in the case of IVF because it's believed that the natural environment of the body is a better place to encourage an embryo to develop than a laboratory dish.

Some women may not be able to produce healthy eggs due to ovarian failure or age-related infertility. For these women, egg (oocyte) and embryo donation have been successful. An embryo transplant involves the artificial insemination of a donor’s egg with the male partner’s sperm.

After fertilisation has occurred, the embryo is transferred to the female partner’s uterus. To be successful, it is imperative that fertility drugs be used to synchronise both women’s menstrual cycles. The first baby conceived with a donor egg was born in Australia in 1983.

For women who rarely or never ovulate, one option to help boost their chances of falling pregnant is fertility drugs. The two main types used are tablets of clomiphene citrate, branded Clomid or Serophene, or injections of follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH), branded Gonal-F or Puregon.

With the clomiphene tablets, doses range from half a tablet to three tablets a day, depending on the severity of the ovulation issue and the woman's body size. The can be used in conjunction with IVF programs or on their own. FSH are administered by injection via a pen-like device just under the skin.

For men who have hormonal irregularities, medication is available that can assist with producing hormones for sperm production and erectile dysfunction.


What fertility techniques did you try to get pregnant? What worked for you? Share your comments below…


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