Seeking infertility treatment means learning a whole new vocabulary. You might have heard the term assisted reproductive technology (ART) bandied about, and wondered if it applies to you. Knowing your ART options can help you better understand your own body and weigh various options that may help.
What is Assisted Reproductive Technology?
ART is sometimes used as a catchall term for any fertility treatment, from medications to surgery. But in the medical community, ART refers to treatments that manipulate the sperm or the egg to make pregnancy more likely.
ART works best in couples who have an issue with sperm or who have a diagnosis that makes it difficult for the sperm to fertilize the egg. Women who ovulate infrequently may also benefit from ART, since an ART cycle greatly increases the odds of a successful pregnancy each cycle.
ART is also a viable option in couples who have unexplained infertility. This is because the odds of pregnancy are higher with each ART cycle, and ART can circumvent many common but difficult-to-diagnose problems. Couples who have tried other treatments without success, as well as people attempting to get pregnant without a partner, may also choose ART.
Types of Assisted Reproductive Technology
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is perhaps the most well-known form of ART, but it’s far from the only option. Your ART options include:
In vitro fertilization
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a relatively new technology that’s been in use for about three decades. It’s also one of the most successful options, boasting a success rate of about 15-25% per cycle.
During an IVF cycle, a doctor retrieves eggs from the woman and then fertilize them with sperm. The fertilized egg grows in a petri dish for several days until it becomes an embryo. Then a doctor implants the embryo back into the woman’s uterus.
To maximize the success odds of IVF, a woman usually takes fertility drugs to ensure she ovulates on a predictable timeline and to encourage her body to produce multiple extra age. For this reason, IVF often produces multiple embryos. This increases the likelihood of having multiple babies.
Intrauterine insemination fertilizes the egg inside a woman’s uterus. This is a more affordable option than IVF, though it has a lower success rate. IUI works best for women trying to get pregnant without a partner, for people with unexplained infertility, and when the man’s sperm has issues traveling to the egg--often due to low mobility, but sometimes due to a chemical mismatch between the man’s semen and the woman’s vaginal fluids.
IUI requires just one procedure, during which the sperm is implanted into the woman. Some women opt to take fertility drugs before IUI to increase the number of eggs they produce. Fertility drugs increase the chances of success with IUI.
An intrafallopian transfer fertilizes the egg inside the woman’s fallopian tube. Intrafallopian transfers are good options for couples with unexplained infertility, with sperm mobility issues, or when the woman has an issue with her fallopian tube, such as a blocked tube.
A gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIT) transfers sperm and eggs into a woman’s fallopian tube, where the sperm fertilizes the egg. Some couples prefer it because of religious or ethical beliefs dictating that fertilization should occur inside the body.
A zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIT) is similar to IVF. Eggs are removed from the woman’s body and fertilized in a lab setting, then transferred into the woman’s body when they grow into embryos. But unlike with IVF, the embryos are deposited into the fallopian tube.
As with other ART options, a woman typically takes fertility drugs prior to the cycle.
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ISI) removes one or more eggs from the woman’s body. Then a mature egg is injected with a single healthy sperm. When the eggs develop normally, they are transferred back to the woman’s body.
ISI works best when there are serious sperm issues. For example, a man with very low sperm motility or very few quality sperm might select this option. Sometimes a man has normal sperm count and morphology, but significant DNA damage that decreases fertility or increases the risk of an early miscarriage. ISI allows a doctor to select the healthiest sperm and implant it in the egg.
A woman typically takes fertility drugs to boost egg production and normalize her cycle before an ISI implantation.
ART: Not the Only Option
IVF revolutionized the world of infertility. It’s received so much attention that many couples think it’s the only or the primary option for treating issues with fertility. But ART is not the only option. In fact, many couples opt to pursue less invasive treatments prior to trying ART. For many, the right medication or medical procedure can greatly increase the chances of fertility.
There are dozens of fertility treatments that may help, but some of the most effective non-ART methods include:
- A procedure designed to clear blocked tubes.
- Hormones to support and encourage ovulation.
- Hormone treatments to address other issues in a woman's cycle, such as a too-short luteal phase.
- Treating underlying medical conditions such as insulin resistance.
Fertility education can also be helpful. Some couples are not correctly timing intercourse to maximize their chances of fertility. Others may be using lubricants that make it more difficult for the sperm to travel to the egg. Still, others may have lifestyle risk factors, such as obesity, smoking, or drug use, that increase the risk of miscarriage and infertility.
Infertility is a complex challenge, and it demands complex solutions. Often the best strategy is a multi-pronged approach to medication, lifestyle changes, and a few tweaks in intercourse timing.
Your Fertility Specialist Matters
No matter what fertility treatments you choose, no matter what fertility issues you struggle with, the right fertility specialist can make a world of difference. While a gynecologist or family doctor can offer preliminary fertility testing, fertility experts are leaders in their field. They know about cutting-edge research and have intimate knowledge of treatments a general practitioner might not even know about.
For the best possible chance of a quick and successful pregnancy, a fertility specialist is your best ally. Even among fertility specialists, though, there’s a wide range of skill levels. So ask for statistics from whomever you choose, and if you’re not getting effective treatment, don’t be afraid to switch providers.
The Center of Reproductive Medicine, with its 5 locations in and around Houston, Texas, offers comprehensive, compassionate, effective ART and other fertility treatment options. We’ll correctly diagnose the problem, then diligently work to treat you. We know how difficult this journey can be. Our job is to make it a bit easier. To learn more, contact us today.