In vitro fertilisation, commonly known as IVF, is one of many fertility treatments available to people experiencing fertility problems. It’s also one of the best known and commonly publicised fertility treatments out there.
The procedure works by extracting an egg from the women’s ovaries and fertilising it outside of the body in a laboratory. The fertilised egg is then return to the womb to develop.
Who is IVF treatment for?
Ideal candidates for IVF are couples that have been trying to conceive for at least two or three years and haven’t succeeded. It’s also very common for couples that have tried other fertility treatments to turn to IVF if previous attempts have failed.
Since IVF treatment involves fertilising the egg outside of the body, women experiencing problems with their fallopian tubes can also benefit from the procedure. As the IVF procedure bypasses the fallopian tubes entirely, conditions like blocked or absent fallopian tubes shouldn’t affect the eligibility for the treatment.
You may still qualify for IVF treatment if you have the following conditions:
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Abnormal ovulation cycles
- Not producing healthy eggs
- Male fertility problems
Women experiencing abnormal ovulation cycles may be prescribed drug treatment to regulate the production of eggs before IVF is carried out.
If low sperm count is the main reason for unsuccessful pregnancy a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) may be used with IVF. The use of ICSI means that only one healthy sperm is required to inject directly into the egg.
Who shouldn’t have IVF treatment?
There are many factors that can impact the likelihood of pregnancy through IVF. One important factor is age. As you get older the production of healthy eggs begins to decrease which in turn reduces the chance of pregnancy through IVF. To increase the change of pregnancy some couples may choose to use donor eggs, but this might not be the right choice for everyone.
The success rate of IVF treatment based on age, taken from 2010 NHS data looks like this:
- 32.2% for women under 35
- 27.7% for women aged 35-37
- 20.8% for women aged 38-39
- 13.6% for women aged 40-42
- 5% for women aged 43-44
- 1.9% for women aged over 44
IVF may not be for you if:
- You do not want to use donor eggs, and your ovaries do not produce healthy eggs
- You are in your later 30s, or older. Women over 37 may have a lower chance of achieving pregnancy through IVF
- You have fibroid tumours
- You’re experiencing ovarian dysfunction
- You’re experiencing abnormal hormone levels
NHS IVF treatment options
In the UK you may be eligible for IVF treatment on the NHS. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that up to three cycles of IVF treatment should be available on the NHS if the following criteria are met.
- The women is aged between 23 and 39
- Either partner is diagnosed with fertility problems, or
- Are infertile for over 3 years
Older women may also be eligible for treatment on the NHS, if they haven’t previously received treatment. However, you’ll need to contact your GP for a full assessment to see if you meet the required criteria.
Additional criteria may also be considered when being assessed for fertility treatment on the NHS, like:
- Are you a healthy weight?
- Do you smoke?
- Do you already have children?
To see if you qualify for IVF or other forms of fertility treatment on the NHS you’ll need to contact your GP for an assessment. Contact your doctor if you’ve been trying to get pregnant for over a year without having any success.
Cost of IVF treatment
The cost of IVF is potentially free through the NHS if you meet the strict criteria set. Going private, the cost of IVF in the UK ranges from £3,000 to £5,900 with an average mean cost of £3,500.
Getting started with IVF
Trying to get pregnant naturally for over a year without any luck may be an indication of fertility problems. As a result, you may consider turning to IVF or another method to help you get pregnant. However, before having treatment, a medical assessment will need to be carried out to establish the cause of the problem.
If you’re having problems, first see your GP who can carry out a detailed examination and review your medical history.
Depending on the cause, you may be advised to make some lifestyle changes to improve the chances of pregnancy. Additionally, you may be referred to a fertility specialist for extra fertility investigations and treatment.
The fertility specialist will carry out their own physical examination and check hormone levels to assess how the ovaries are functioning. Scans and x-rays may be used to check for internal structural problems, looking for abnormalities and blockages that may prevent ovulation.
After the assessment, If IVF is recommended you should be referred to the assisted conception unit.
At the assisted conception unit additional tests will be run to check there is nothing preventing you from having IVF treatment. Also, the fertility specialist will check the quality and the amount of eggs produced to estimate how well IVF may work for you.
You specialist will finally go over the details of your treatment plan and give you support and guidance through the procedure.
If you’re not eligible for NHS treatment, you can go private. The process for private fertility treatment is the same.
What’s involved in IVF treatment?
- Menstrual cycle will be suppressed with the use of drugs
- Fertility drugs will be used to increase the production of eggs
- Using ultrasound scans, the development of the eggs is checked. Additional medication may be used to help the eggs develop
- Eggs are collected with a needle which is inserted into the ovaries
- Eggs are fertilised
- Transfer the fertilised eggs, embryos, into the womb
After a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to have a pregnancy test to see if the treatment has worked or not.
Risks of IVF treatment
IVF unfortunately doesn’t guarantee results and the experience of going through the process can be difficult and emotionally demanding.
There are some risk and side effect associate with IVF. These include:
- Medication used during the procedure can cause headaches and hot flushes
- It’s fairly common to have multiple births, such as twins or more
- The embryo may implant in the fallopian tube
- Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) – the development of too many eggs in the ovaries
How to choose where to go for IVF treatment?
When looking for a hospital or clinic that providers fertility treatment in the UK you should check that they’re registered with the HFEA. The HFEA is a government organisation that regulates and inspects all UK clinics that provide fertility treatment, including the storage of eggs, sperm or embryos.
At Mhc, we have developed a user-friendly healthcare directory portal for people looking for treatments, like IVF, to easily search for, find and contact hospitals and clinics in the UK. To make things even easier for patients and visitors, we take extra care to ensure that all clinics and hospitals we work with are registered with the CQC and/or the HFEA.
In addition to finding a place to have fertility treatment, you should also research and consider the doctor who will carry out the surgery. All doctors must be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). There you can access the surgeon’s work history.
Although Mhc can help you find a clinic, hospital or doctor, we recommend you to thoroughly assess and research the care providers you choose before moving forward.
Things to consider before fertility treatment
Choosing to have IVF treatment requires a lot of careful thought and consideration. You need to really understand the reasons for choosing the fertility treatment you want and set realistic expectations of the outcome.
Once your mind is made up, are you confident that you are fully prepared for the treatment?
Here are some things you should think about:
- Is the procedure affordable?
- How many attempts do you have?
- What is the chance of success?
- What is the best treatment option for my condition?
Start your search
You may or may not be ready for IVF treatment, but it’s never too soon to reach out to a clinic or hospital, or a doctor, to start a conversation. A major part of your research into the procedure you’re looking for should include direct communication, and a consultation, with an expert. Feel free to contact multiple care providers and experts. The more information you can gather about your procedure and surgeon the better decision you’re likely to make.