You may assume that artificial insemination is simply a matter of placing male sperm into a female vagina in order for conception to take place without the intervention of sex. In its very simplest form, this could be the case. In terms of assisted reproduction, it is a little more complicated than that – although not very much so.
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) to give it its proper name, is one of the least invasive and simplest forms of assisted reproduction. It most obviously springs to mind in the case of single women and same sex couples wanting to start a family with the assistance of donor sperm. This is certainly one of its major applications but it has other benefits too. In this IVI blog article, we take a look at how IUI works, artificial insemination success rates and its potential benefits for different people.
What is IUI and how does it work?
IUI basically consists of depositing a semen sample, which has been prepared in the laboratory in advance, inside a woman’s uterus, either following a spontaneous ovulation or after inducing the ovulation following an ovarian stimulation treatment. With IUI the spermatozoon and the egg are put in the closest possible proximity in order to increase the chances of fertilisation and conception taking place that cycle. Here’s the detail on how it works. Our video on artificial insemination also explains the process.
- Ovarian stimulation is often used to make sure that 1 or more eggs are available at the right time for conception. The stimulation phase lasts around 10 days during which ultrasound scans and blood tests evaluate the follicle growth. Finally, an injection of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which triggers ovulation, is administered 36 hours before the artificial insemination takes place.
- Semen preparation consists of selecting and concentrating the sperm with the best motility in a technique known as semen capacitation. The process eliminates slow or immobile sperm so that the sample to be used for artificial insemination is optimised.
Artificial insemination success rates: what are the chances?
According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), artificial insemination success rates per individual cycle vary between 15.8% for women under 35, 11% for women aged 35 to 39 and 4.7% for women aged 40 to 42. Overall, over half of women having IUI become pregnant over the first six cycles.
However, the NHS warns that treatment is only available under certain circumstances; it may not be available to same-sex couples unless previous private treatment has identified a fertility problem, and waiting times in various areas of the UK can be quite extensive.
Here at IVI, our success rates vary according to the age of the woman and other factors including the reason for the infertility, whether a partner’s or donor sperm is used and whether ovarian stimulation is used. Overall, if a couple has the full IUI procedure each month, our artificial insemination success rates can be up to 20% per cycle. Naturally, a great deal depends on a woman’s or a couple’s individual circumstances and it is always wise to discuss this with a fertility specialist before deciding on this course of treatment.
Why do IUI: who can benefit?
Whether you go through the NHS or a private clinic, you will be given tests to determine whether you are likely to benefit from IUI.
Assuming this is the case, who can benefit?
- Single women who for whatever reason have decided to go it alone in starting their family are obvious candidates for IUI using donor sperm. In the absence of any conditions affecting fertility, this is the main recommended treatment. The HFEA advises that you should always use a licenced clinic for the procedure, so you know the sperm has been screened to eliminate any diseases or hereditary problems. They also advise that the legal framework around donor anonymity is different in the UK from some other European countries, and so you need to be comfortable with the prevailing conditions. Of course, the same advice applies to any other individuals or couples considering IUI treatment using donor sperm.
- Likewise, same sex couples who have decided the time is right to start a family are also an important beneficiary group of the IUI technique using donor sperm, as there is not history of infertility either.
- For heterosexual couples, IUI using the male partner’s own sperm could be the recommended fertility treatment in cases where:
- the reason for low fertility is unknown and the time of infertility short,
- the woman has problems with ovulation or an abnormality of the cervix,
- the male partner has no sperm,
- the male partner is a carrier of a genetic condition or disease which cannot be reliably identified through embryo screening.
Finding out more about IUI
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has some useful detailed information on finding a clinic for IUI treatment and weighing up the options for choosing a clinic in the UK or abroad. It also gives a good outline of the different legal regimes around sperm donation and the subsequent parental rights and responsibilities.
Come and talk to us at IVI
IUI remains one of the simplest and easiest forms of assisted reproduction for a whole range of people. You may be one of them; why not come and find out? You can get in touch through our online contact form, or you could pay a visit to a Patient Open Evening in our London clinic where you can get an expert answer to your questions in an easy-going and comfortable environment.