10 October 2017

What is IVF?

what is ivf?

Medical Director
Cesar Diaz-Garcia
MD PhD Assoc Prof
IVI London


Here at IVI, we are the world’s leading fertility group with over 70 clinics in 13 countries.

The focus of our clinic is to turn our patients’ dreams of becoming parents into reality, so we specialise in helping women and couples have the babies they’ve always wanted.

We offer treatments such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), egg donation, intrauterine insemination (IUI) and fertility preservation, and we provide a world-class patient experience. We put the needs of our patients at the heart of all clinical developments and take pride in our level of customer care.

So, with this in mind, we’ve dedicated this page to answer one of the most common questions we get asked, which is: ‘What is IVF?’

The Definition of IVF

IVF, otherwise known as In Vitro Fertilisation, is a method of getting pregnant where an egg is fertilised by sperm outside of the body, in vitro (which means in glass). The resulting embryos can then be transferred to the woman’s uterus with the intention of establishing a successful pregnancy. The process is undertaken by couples struggling to conceive, same-sex couples or single women wishing to have a baby through sperm donation.

IVF is for:

  • Women aged under 40 years who have not conceived after 2 years of regular unprotected intercourse.
  • Women suffering from endometriosis
  • Couples with a genetic condition which can be screened for in the embryo
  • Women with premature ovarian failure
  • Women with blocked or damaged fallopian tubes
  • Women with ovulatory disorders
  • Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Patients for whom treatments such as artificial insemination have failed
  • Same-sex couples and single women
  • Male factor infertility, including decreased sperm count or sperm motilityWomen with ovulation disorders, premature ovarian failure, uterine fibroids
  • Women who have had their fallopian tubes removed
  • Individuals with a genetic disorder
  • Unexplained infertility.

Pregnancy After the Menopause

Menopause is a natural barrier to further conception, but through IVF, women have been able to experience healthy pregnancies. With the appropriate preparation of her uterus, a woman can receive embryos that originated from an egg donor. Therefore, even after menopause, IVF can help women carry a healthy pregnancy.

IVF Can Also Help Male Infertility

Often, the assumption is that IVF is used to overcome female infertility. While this is true, IVF can also assist in male infertility. In such cases, intracytoplasmic sperm injections may be used, where sperm is injected directly into the egg cell. This is used when the sperm has difficulty penetrating the egg on its own.

If you are considering IVF and are unsure of which treatment to have, our team of experts are available to talk you through the different options we offer. At IVI, we are dedicated to ensuring you understand all of the procedures and feel in control of your treatment. Most importantly, we will be with you every step of the way.

How Does IVF Work?

All IVF treatments begin with a course of hormone therapy which is used to stimulate egg production. Ovarian stimulation during an IVF cycle consists of daily injections that stimulate the ovaries to produce more eggs than usual. A second injection is also given to release eggs before collection. Only a single egg is matured and ovulated each month naturally.

By stimulating the ovaries to produce more eggs, the hope is that a larger number of embryos will be created. Fertility drugs are recommended with IVF as they can help increase your chances of pregnancy.

Egg Collection

When the follicles (fluid sacs in which the eggs develop and mature) have reached an optimum size, the egg collection is scheduled. At this stage, it is important that an injection of hCG is administered to mature the eggs inside the follicles. This injection is given approximately thirty-six hours before the egg collection is scheduled.

Egg collection only takes around thirty minutes, and you will be given medication to ensure you do not experience any discomfort during the procedure. With the help of a scanning probe, a fine needle is passed through the vaginal wall and into the ovary to collect the eggs. Once the procedure is finished, you will need to stay in the clinic for at least an hour, but you can go home. We would suggest you have someone ready to pick you up because the use of anaesthetic means you will not be able to drive for the rest of the day.


The collected eggs are fertilised in a test tube (in vitro) to create several embryos. Fertilising the egg involves placing the egg in a culture dish together with approximately 100,000 sperm. If there are insufficient numbers of sperm or the motility of sperm is significantly reduced, the embryologists may select a single sperm and inject it directly into the egg. This technique is called Intracytoplasmic sperm injection.

After between two to five days in an incubator, one or two of these embryos are transferred through the vagina to the uterus in the hope that implantation will occur and pregnancy begins.

However, in IVF, not all embryos implant, which is why surplus embryos are frozen – so that you can either have a brother or sister later down the line after your successful pregnancy or if implantation was unsuccessful, the frozen embryos give you another chance to try again without having to restart the entire process.

Embryos and Donation

Embryo donation helps couples to conceive and is an option for couples who require both egg and sperm donation, or single women unable to use their eggs. Embryos tend to be donated by couples who have experienced a successful IVF treatment and want to help other couples experience the same.
IVF can sometimes produce extra embryos, and the couple must then decide what to do with them. There are multiple options; such as having them stored for the future if they choose to have more children, or they can be donated to other couples struggling to conceive. Also, extra embryos can be donated to medical research, but this is a decision that needs to be made by the couple alone.

Multiple Births

One of the risks associated with IVF is that of multiple births. This is directly linked to the practice of transferring multiple embryos. On average, one in five IVF pregnancies results in multiple pregnancies compared to one in eighty for women who conceive naturally.

A multiple pregnancies is considered to be the single biggest risk of any fertility treatment as it can increase the chances of an unhealthy child and the risk of a stillbirth. Multiple pregnancies can also be dangerous for the mothers who can experience complications during pregnancy such as late miscarriage, high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia.

At IVI, our policy is to recommend single embryo transfer to minimise the risks associated with multiple pregnancies. If you have high-quality embryos, choosing multiple embryos to transfer at once does not necessarily increase the chances of becoming pregnant. Single embryo transfers are how we minimise the likelihood and risks of multiples pregnancies.


In rare cases, the use of fertility drugs to induce ovulation can cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, in which your ovaries become swollen and painful. Signs and symptoms typically last a week and include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, bloating and nausea. If you become pregnant, however, your symptoms are likely to last for several weeks.


The rate of miscarriage for women who conceive through IVF with fresh embryos is similar to that of women who conceive naturally – about 15 to 25%. But the rate does increase with maternal age.


IVF can be a stressful experience for many couples, financially, physically and emotionally. Which is why, here at IVI we offer counselling support, and we strongly encourage all our patients to accept support from family, friends and partners through the varying ups and downs of fertility treatment. Whoever you are, you should never go through IVF without any support. Here at IVI, we always have people available to help guide and support you throughout the process.

IVI The World Leaders in IVF Treatment

IVI is the world leaders in IVF, and if you’re considering embarking on this journey, you’ll be in the best possible hands with our dedicated team of experts.

All couples are offered joint and individual counselling sessions with a specialist fertility counsellor. We also provide literature to download with helpful advice on how to cope with the process of IVF, and you can speak to all our staff about any worries you may have.

Call Us Today

If you would like more information, if you have any questions or would like to arrange your first consultation, please contact our friendly UK Patient Support Services team on 0800 52 00 161, or you can use our clinic contact forms.

Request more information, no obligation


  • Janis says:

    This is a really informative article for those who are to start trying IVF, thanks. I wish we could do that in your clinic, but it’s too expensive for us… so we had to apply to a Ukrainian one. Still decent, though.

  • Patrick Quinn says:

    Such an informative article describing all the details about IVF. I am glad that you shared this. This can reach out to many and be helpful to them. This treatment is really helpful to the ones who are unable to conceive.

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