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What is Artificial Insemination?
Artificial insemination, or AI, is a fertilization procedure in which sperm is artificially placed into a woman’s cervix (intracervical insemination) or uterus (intrauterine insemination). During artificial insemination treatment, the woman’s menstrual cycle is closely monitored using ovarian kits, ultrasounds, and blood tests. The semen to be implanted is “washed” in a laboratory, which increases the chances of fertilization while removing unnecessary, potentially harmful chemicals. The semen is inserted into the woman, and if the procedure is successful, she conceives.
Success rates for artificial insemination vary based on the type of fertility problem being treated and the age of the patient. Most women who choose artificial insemination have a 5 to 25 percent chance of becoming pregnant with each menstrual cycle. These chances increase if you take fertility drugs in conjunction with the procedure.
What Type of Infertility Can Artificial Insemination Treat?
Artificial insemination can be used for many kinds of fertility problems. It’s a popular infertility treatment for men who have very low sperm counts or sperm that aren’t strong enough to swim through the cervix and up into the fallopian tubes. Artificial insemination is also sometimes an option for women who have endometriosis or abnormalities of any of their reproductive organs.
Women with “unreceptive cervical mucus” are also good candidates for artificial insemination. In these women, the mucus surrounding the cervix is hostile to sperm and prevents sperm from getting into the uterus and fallopian tubes. Artificial insemination allows the sperm to skip the cervical mucus entirely. Doctors also often suggest artificial insemination when they cannot determine the reason a couple is infertile.
Why is Artificial Insemination used?
Artificial insemination is beneficial to couples or individuals in many circumstances. For example a couple may be producing healthy sperm and eggs but not necessarily be able to have intercourse (maybe due to a medical condition). Some other scenarios where artificial insemination could be beneficial are listed below.
- A woman may want to raise a child alone – in this case she would request a sperm donor to be artificially inseminated.
- The female may be infertile due to cervical factor infertility – the cervix is supposed to produce a mucus that helps sperm travel to the womb. With cervical factor infertility, the cervix is either not producing enough of this mucus, or it is producing mucus containing sperm killing substances.
- The woman may be suffering Endometriosis – this is when cells from the womb lining start to grow in places they should not within the woman’s reproductive system e.g. ovaries or fallopian tubes. One of the possible results of this condition is infertility. Artificial insemination can be successful in mild to moderate cases of this.
- The female could have semen allergy – this is rare but can still happen, due to certain proteins in the sperm the woman may suffer an allergic reaction when the sperm makes contact. With IUI most of the proteins would be removed before sperm insertion.
- The male is unable to produce enough sperm for successful fertilization.
- The man is impotent (erectile dysfunction) – and would therefore be unable to perform sexual intercourse.
- The male could be infertile as a result of a medical treatment – some treatments carry the risk of infertility e.g. radiotherapy. Before the treatment the male would have been given the chance to freeze some of his sperm.
- The couple could be in same sex relationship – two women who want to raise a child together would use sperm from a donor, which one of the women would receive via artificial insemination.
- Reason for infertility cannot be determined – IUI may be recommended to a couple that cannot conceive even if no underlying reason for the infertility can be identified.
Chances of success
Figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) suggest that each cycle of IUI with donor sperm has a success rate of:
- 15.8% for women under 35
- 11.0% for women aged 35-39
- 4.7% for women aged 40-42
- 1.2% for women aged 43-44
- 0% for women over 44
As well as the woman’s age, the changes of success can also be affected by the sperm count and sperm quality (using fresh sperm is associated with higher conception rates than frozen and thawed sperm) and technical aspects of IUI, such as working out the time of ovulation correctly.
Overall, more than half of the women who have IUI will become pregnant during the first six treatment cycles.
If IUI fails after several attempts, your doctor may suggest trying another treatment, such as IVF.
Are there any risks?
Risks involved with IUI are minimal, although some women experience mild cramps similar to period pains.
In cases where medication is used to stimulate ovulation, there is a small risk of a reaction to the medication and a chance of an unintended multiple pregnancy (such as twins or triplets).
You’ll be monitored with ultrasound scans to check for a potential multiple pregnancy and the treatment cycle can be abandoned if necessary to avoid this.