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A healthcare professional talks with a couple about fertility treatments.

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Understanding Infertility

We know having children is important to many families. When that hope is challenged by infertility, it often means going into a whole new world of questions, choices, emotions, and even a new language. It can be hard to follow all the terms and acronyms you will hear. Here are a few common ones that might help.

ART. Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) is the broad term for certain fertility treatments. A treatment or procedure (technology) is done to help (assistive) a family to get pregnant (reproduction). While there are different ways to do ART, it always involves handling eggs or embryos (fertilized eggs) outside of the body. Sometimes the woman’s own eggs and the man’s own sperm are used. Other times eggs, sperm or embryos are donated by someone else. When an egg is successfully fertilized, it can be transferred into the uterus where it will hopefully implant.

In vitro fertilization. The most common type of ART is in vitro fertilization or IVF. For IVF, a woman’s eggs are combined with a man’s sperm in a laboratory and embryos are formed. Then the embryos are transferred into the woman.

The IVF process happens in steps. First, the woman injects medication (shots) for about two (2) weeks. The shots help her ovaries make more eggs. When the eggs are ready, they are carefully taken out (retrieved) while the woman is under anesthesia. To fertilize the egg, thousands of sperm are put near the egg. It takes one of those sperm to break through the hard outer layer of the egg and fertilize it to become an embryo. When the embryos are ready, they can either be transferred right away into the uterus or frozen for future transfer.

Intracytoplasmic sperm injection. Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is a method used during IVF treatment planning. In this case, one single sperm is injected right into a mature egg rather than thousands of sperm being placed near the egg. This is done by a highly-trained embryologist. If fertilization is successful and the embryo continues to develop properly, the embryo can be transferred into the uterus, tested more or frozen.

Intrauterine insemination. With intrauterine insemination (IUI), sperm is injected into the woman’s body, hoping that one of the sperm will reach the egg. IUI isn’t a type of ART because the egg stays in the woman’s body, but it’s often thought of in the same category. The IUI procedure is similar in some ways to getting a PAP smear.

Ovarian stimulation. Not every family needs IVF. Some people don’t qualify for one. Some women may only need medications to help stimulate the ovaries, so more mature eggs are available. The more eggs available, the greater the chance that one will fertilize. Some women have plenty of eggs but may need help ovulating (releasing the eggs). This is called ovulation induction. The woman will take a certain medication at the right time on the right day to make more mature eggs or to release them.

Surrogacy. Surrogacy is a form of ART. For these families, an embryo created by hopeful parents is transferred into another woman’s uterus. She will serve as the gestational carrier and carry the baby to term.

Deciding if ART is right for your family, or which type of ART is best, depends on many things. Talk to your fertility team to learn about your options and decide what may be right for you.

This information is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Talk to your doctor or health care provider about your medical condition, and prior to starting any new treatment. CVS Health® and/or its affiliates assumes no liability whatsoever for the information provided or for any diagnosis or treatment made as a result, nor is it responsible for the reliability of the content.

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