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In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

Precautions, Description, Preparation, Risks, Normal ResultsAftercare, Abnormal results

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a procedure in which eggs (ova) from a woman's ovary are removed, fertilized with sperm in a laboratory procedure, and then the resulting fertilized egg (embryo) is returned to the woman's uterus. Human fertilization in vivo (in the living body) occurs in oviducts (fallopian tubes) of the female reproductive tract.

IVF is a procedure of assisted reproductive techniques (ART) in which eggs (ova) from a woman's ovary are removed. Ova are fertilized with sperm in a laboratory procedure If fertilization occurs, a fertilized ovum, after undergoing several cell divisions, is transferred to the mother for normal development in the uterus, or frozen for later implantation.

IVF is one of several assisted reproductive techniques (ART) used to help infertile couples to conceive a child. If after one year of having sexual intercourse without the use of birth control a woman is unable to get pregnant, infertility is suspected. IVF is used to treat couples with unexplained infertility of long duration who have failed with other infertility treatments. Some of the reasons for infertility are damaged or blocked fallopian tubes, hormonal imbalance, or endometriosis in the woman. In the man, low sperm count or poor quality sperm can cause infertility.

IVF is one of several possible methods to increase the chance for an infertile couple to become pregnant. Its use depends on the reason for infertility. IVF may be an option if there is a blockage in the fallopian tube or endometriosis in the woman or low sperm count or poor quality sperm in the man. There are other possible treatments for these conditions, such as surgery for blocked tubes or endometriosis, which may be tried before IVF.

IVF will not work for a woman who is not capable of ovulating or a man who is not able to produce at least a few healthy sperm.

Other similar types of assisted reproductive technologies are also used to achieve pregnancy. A procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) uses a manipulation technique that uses a microscope to inject a single sperm into each egg. The fertilized eggs can then be returned to the uterus, as in IVF. In gamete intrafallopian tube transfer (GIFT) the eggs and sperm are mixed in a narrow tube and then deposited in the fallopian tube, where fertilization normally takes place. Another variation on IVF is zygote intrafallopian tube transfer (ZIFT). As in IVF, the fertilization of the eggs occurs in a laboratory dish. And, similar to GIFT, the embryos are placed in the fallopian tube (rather than the uterus as with IVF).

After the IVF procedure is performed the woman can resume normal activities. A pregnancy test can be done approximately 12-14 days later to determine if the procedure was successful.

An ectopic or multiple pregnancy may abort spontaneously or may require termination if the health of the mother is at risk.



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Rimoin, D.L. Emery and Rimoin's Principles and Practice of Medical Genetics. London; New York: Churchill Livingstone, 2002.

Sadler, T.W., and Jan Langman. Langman's Medical Embryology. 8th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Publishers; 2000.


Alper, M., P. Brinsden, M. Wikland, and R. Fischer. "International Standard for IVF Centres." Human Reproducion 18, no. 2 (2003): 461.

Foote RH. "Fertility estimation: a review of past experience and future prospects." Animal Reproduction Science 75 no. 1-2 (2003): 119-39.

Squires, J., A. Carter,. P. Kaplan. "Developmental Monitoring of Children Conceived by Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection and In Vitro Fertilization." Fertility and Sterility 79, no. 2 (2003): 453-4.

Antonio Farina
Brenda Wilmoth Lerner


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Fallopian tubes

—In a woman's reproductive system, a pair of narrow tubes that carry the egg from the ovary to the uterus.


—Gamete intrafallopian tube transfer. This is a process where eggs are taken from a woman's ovaries, mixed with sperm, and then deposited into the woman's fallopian tube.


—Intracytoplasmic sperm injection. This process is used to inject a single sperm into each egg before the fertilized eggs are put back into the woman's body. The procedure may be used if the male has a low sperm count.


—Zygote intrafallopian tube transfer. In this process of in vitro fertilization, the eggs are fertilized in a laboratory dish and then placed in the woman's fallopian tube.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Hydrazones to Incompatibility