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IVF Terms and Definitions


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Androgen: Hormone that stimulates the activity of the accessory male sex organs and encourages development of male sex characteristics. Also produced in low quantities in females.

Artificial Insemination (AI): The depositing of sperm in the vagina near the cervix or directly into the uterus, with the use of a catheter instead of by sexual intercourse. This technique is used to overcome sexual performance problems, to avoid sperm-mucus interaction problems, to maximise the potential of poor semen, and for using donor sperm.

Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART): A variety of procedures used to bring about conception without sexual intercourse, including IVF, and GIFT.

Blastocyst transfer: A recent advance in infertility treatment, in which embryos develop for 4 or 5 days (until they reach blastocyst stage), rather than the usual 2 or 3 days in IVF.

Corpus luteum: A structure that forms at the site of an ovarian follicle after it releases an egg. The corpus luteum releases estrogen and progesterone, two hormones necessary for maintaining a pregnancy. If pregnancy occurs, the corpus luteum functions for five or six months. If pregnancy does not occur, it stops functioning.

Cryopreservation: Storage of organs or tissues at very low temperatures. Embryos that are not used in an ART cycle can be cryopreserved for future use.

Egg retrieval: A procedure used to obtain eggs from ovarian follicles for use in in vitro fertilisation. The procedure may be performed during laparoscopy or through the vagina by using a needle and ultrasound to locate the follicle in the ovary.

Embryo: Term used to describe the early stages of fetal growth, from conception to the eighth week of pregnancy.

Embryo transfer: Placing an egg fertilised outside the womb into a woman's uterus or fallopian tube.

Estrogen: Hormone that stimulates secondary female sexual characteristics and controls the course of the menstrual cycle. Also produced in low quantities in males.

Fallopian tubes: Ducts through which eggs travel to the uterus once released from the follicle. Sperm normally meet the egg in the fallopian tube, the site at which fertilisation usually occurs.

Fertilization: The combining of the genetic material carried by sperm and egg to create an embryo. Normally occurs inside the fallopian tube (in vivo) but may also occur in a Petri dish (in vitro). (See also In Vitro fertilisation.)

Fertility specialist: A physician specializing in the practice of fertility. The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology certifies a subspecialty for OB-GYNs who receive extra training in reproductive endocrinology (the study of hormones) and infertility.

Fertility treatment: Any method or procedure used to enhance fertility or increase the likelihood of pregnancy, such as ovulation induction treatment, varicocele repair (repair of varicose veins in the scrotal sac), and microsurgery to repair damaged fallopian tubes. The goal of fertility treatment is to help couples have a child.

Fibroid tumor: Benign (not malignant or life-threatening) tumor of fibrous tissue that can occur in the uterine wall. May be totally without symptoms or may cause abnormal menstrual patterns or infertility.

Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH): A pituitary hormone that stimulates follicular development and spermatogenesis (sperm development). In the woman, FSH stimulates the growth of the ovarian follicle. In the man, FSH stimulates the Sertoli cells in the testicles and supports sperm production. Elevated FSH levels are associated with gonadal failure in both men and women.

Follicles: Fluid-filled sacs in the ovary, which contain the eggs released at ovulation. Each month an egg develops inside the ovary in a follicle.

Gamete: A reproductive cell. Sperm in men, the egg in women.

Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT): After egg retrieval, the eggs are mixed with sperm and then placed, using a minor surgical procedure (laparoscopy), into the woman's fallopian tubes for in vivo fertilisation.

Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH): A substance secreted every ninety minutes or so by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This hormone enables the pituitary to secrete LH and FSH, which stimulate the gonads.

Gonadotropins: Hormones that control reproductive function: Follicle Stimulating Hormone and Luteinizing Hormone.

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG): The hormone produced in early pregnancy that keeps the corpus luteum producing progesterone. Also used via injection to trigger ovulation after some fertility treatments, and used in men to stimulate testosterone production.

Hypogonadism: Inadequate ovarian or testicular function as shown by low sperm production or lack of follicle production, as well as low or absent levels of FSH and LH.

Hysteroscopy: A visual examination of the uterus using an instrument called a hysteroscope, which enables the doctor to see into the organ without making a large incision.

Implantation (Embryo): The embedding of the embryo into tissue so it can establish contact with the mother's blood supply for nourishment. Implantation usually occurs in the lining of the uterus; however, in an ectopic pregnancy it may occur elsewhere in the body.

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): Eggs produced by administering fertility drugs are retrieved from the woman's body and fertilized by sperm in a laboratory. The resulting embryos are transferred by catheter to the uterus.

Infertility: The inability to conceive after a year of unprotected intercourse (six months if the woman is over age 35) or the inability to carry a pregnancy to term.

Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI): A micromanipulation (occurring under the microscope) procedure in which a single sperm is injected directly into the egg to enable fertilization with very low sperm counts or with non-motile sperm (sperm that don't swim effectively toward the egg). The embryo is then transferred to the uterus.

Intrauterine Insemination (IUI): A procedure in which a doctor places sperm directly into the uterus through the cervix using a catheter.

Laparoscopy: Examination of the pelvic region by using a small telescope called a laparoscope.

Luteinizing Hormone (LH): A pituitary hormone that stimulates the gonads. In the man, LH is necessary for spermatogenesis and for the production of testosterone. In the woman, LH is necessary for the production of estrogen.

Luteinizing Hormone Surge (LH SURGE): The release of luteinizing hormone (LH) that causes release of a mature egg from the follicle.

Micromanipulation: A variety of techniques that can be performed in a laboratory under a microscope. Anembryologist manipulates egg and sperm to improve the chances of pregnancy. (See Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection, ICSI.)

Miscarriage: Spontaneous loss of a viable embryo or fetus in the womb.

Ovarian failure: The failure of the ovary to respond to FSH stimulation from the pituitary because of damage to or malformation of the ovary, or a chronic disease such as autoimmune disease. Diagnosed by elevated FSH in the blood.

Ovulation: The release of the egg (ovum) from the ovarian follicle.

Ovulation Induction: Medical treatment performed to initiate ovulation.

Progesterone: The hormone produced by the corpus luteum during the second half of a woman's cycle. It thickens the lining of the uterus to prepare it to accept implantation of a fertilized egg.

Recombinant DNA: DNA that has been modified so that it contains genes from two different sources. Recombinant technology is often used to produce highly pure therapeutic drugs.

Sperm: The microscopic cell that carries the male's genetic information to the female's egg; the male reproductive cell; the male gamete.

Sperm count: The number of sperm in an ejaculate. Also called sperm concentration and given as the number of sperm per milliliter.

Sperm motility: The ability of sperm to swim. Poor motility means the sperm have a difficult time swimming toward the egg.

Sterility: An irreversible condition that prevents conception.

Testosterone: The male hormone responsible for the formation of secondary sex characteristics and for supporting the sex drive. Testosterone is also necessary for spermatogenesis (sperm development).

Ultrasound: A test used instead of X-rays to visualise the reproductive organs; for example, to monitor follicular development.

Vasectomy: The accidental or elective surgical separation of the vasa deferential; a procedure used for birth control.


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