IVF is used to treat couples who cannot become pregnant on their own. It is used when other methods to treat it have not worked.
A couple is infertile if they have had unprotected sex for 1 year without a pregnancy. About 1 in 10 women in the US have problems getting or staying pregnant. Infertility affects both men and women. Most of the time, it can be treated with medicines or surgery. Surgery can fix organs that are not working the way they should.
A certain chain of events must happen to have a natural pregnancy:
- The man and woman must have healthy sperm and eggs.
- The woman’s fallopian tubes must be able to let the sperm reach the egg.
- The sperm must be healthy enough to fertilize the egg when they meet.
- The fertilized egg is called an embryo. It must be able move down the fallopian tube and implant in the lining of the uterus.
- The embryo must be healthy to grow and support the pregnancy.
- The woman's hormones must be able to support the pregnancy.
Infertility happens when the chain of events does not happen as it should. Talk to your doctor if you:
- Are under 35 years old and have not been able to get pregnant after a year of unprotected sex timed to match ovulation
- Are 35 years and older, and have not been able to get pregnant after 6 months of unprotected sex timed to match ovulation
- Think you or your partner may have issues with fertility, even if you are not trying to get pregnant
A doctor will give both partners a physical exam. This will include questions about having sex to find out if everything is being done right to conceive. If a cause cannot be found, testing may be done. These may include:
- Blood tests to check if hormone levels are in the right range
- Basal body temperature—this is taken 1 to 2 days before ovulation to find the most fertile time range in women
- X-rays—contrast material may be used to make structures easier to see
- Laparoscopy in women—tubes with lighted scopes are placed through small holes in the belly or pelvis
- Semen analysis in men—tests the number of sperm, and how they look and move
Many factors can affect a man or woman's fertility. These may include:
- Age—fertility lowers in women after the age of 35
- Alcohol or drug use
- Too much or too little weight
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which can cause pelvic inflammatory disease
- Problems with reproductive organs such as polycystic ovarian syndrome or uterine fibroids
- Surgery on certain organs such as the prostate
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Mary-Beth Seymour, RN
- Review Date: 03/2019 -
- Update Date: 03/08/2019 -