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Navigating the IVF Process: A Guide for First-Time Patients

While struggles with fertility can feel like a lonely battle, every year 49 million couples face difficulties when they want to build a family. Years ago, options to build a family were limited at best. Today, fertility treatments like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) help thousands of people conceive.

IVF is a form of fertility treatment that involves fertilizing an egg with sperm outside the body, and then implanting the embryo to encourage pregnancy. The IVF process can involve a series of important steps, and guidance along the way is imperative. You are bound to have questions like “How much does IVF cost?” and “What is the success rate of IVF?” Here is an extensive guide to answer as many questions as possible before you get started.

Preparing for IVF Treatment

The initial stage of preparing for IVF is all about learning the details about IVF and making sure you are both a good candidate and emotionally prepared for the process.

Finding a Reputable Fertility Clinic

Finding a reputable fertility clinic is an important first step. Consider which places are accessible to you, what services they offer, and look at patient reviews. Consider how you will deal with traveling to the clinic. The IVF process will require a series of in-person appointments at your chosen clinic. As of the latest count, there were roughly 450 registered fertility clinics in the United States. Therefore, your ability to travel to a certain location may have a lot of bearing on which place you choose. 

If you’re in the Tennessee area — our clinic, Fertility Center, has offices based in Chattanooga and Knoxville that offer IVF services. 

Understanding the Costs Involved

A reputable fertility clinic should be open and up front about how much IVF treatments cost. The final cost of IVF varies significantly depending on expected pregnancy rate and the number of cycles it may take, on average, to achieve a successful pregnancy. A general ballpark estimate is anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000. The costs of medication through IVF treatment can be between $3,000 and $6,000. When evaluating clinic options, don’t be afraid to ask for a cost estimate up-front. Also, look at your health insurance policy. Several states require companies to cover fertility treatment to some degree.

Assessing Your Emotional And Physical Readiness

Choosing to undergo IVF treatment must involve ensuring you are emotionally and physically prepared. Feeling anxious, apprehensive, and worried about whether the treatment will work is normal. However, these emotions can intensify as you move through the IVF process. Therefore, it is important to be in a good place emotionally before you get started. Likewise, IVF is a relatively intense physical process. It is important that your body is healthy and strong to withstand the challenges.

Understanding the IVF Process

The IVF process involves a set of steps that must happen at specific times to support the best chance of the treatment working. Once you have undergone your initial consultation and evaluation to ensure you are a good candidate, a series of pre-treatment tests may be conducted. For example, you may need blood work, an ultrasound to look at reproductive structures, and a semen analysis for your partner. All this is done to get a full understanding of your reproductive health and steps that need to be taken to ensure IVF has the best possible chance of being successful.

Once all consultations and tests are complete, the IVF cycle will begin. The cycle generally takes between two and three weeks to complete. This IVF cycle happens in stages:

  1. The IVF cycle begins on day 1 of your period
  2. Medications are taken to stimulate the ovaries to create more eggs than usual
  3. Medications are taken to mature the eggs at 8 to 14 days, and you may take medication to prevent ovulation
  4. Eggs are retrieved around 34 to 36 hours after your final round of egg-maturing medication and placed in a culture medium
  5. Eggs and sperm are combined to create embryos and embryos are allowed to mature while being monitored for 2 to 5 days
  6. After 2 to 5 days, the embryo transfer takes place with the most viable embryos
  7. Embryo implantation can occur in the uterus in the following days
  8. Blood tests will be conducted between 12 and 14 days after egg retrieval to detect pregnancy

Potential Risks and Side Effects of IVF

IVF can involve some risks that affect both the mother and potential baby, such as risks of:

  • Having multiples
  • Low birth weight or premature delivery
  • Miscarriage (15 to 25%)
  • Ectopic pregnancy (2 to 5%)
  • Complications during egg retrieval, such as bleeding or infection
  • Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can cause swollen, painful ovaries
  • Emotional stress

Other often-proposed risks like birth defects and cancer related to IVF medications have not been extensively studied enough to make definitive statements.

Success Rate of IVF and Factors That Affect Success

The nationwide success rate of IVF (that resulted in a baby) is roughly 46 percent. The most important affective factor with IVF is the woman’s age. Women over the age of 37 see a drastic decline in success rates. Another factor that can affect the success rate of IVF is how many embryos are transferred. The trend has been toward transfer of one, genetically screened embryo.

Medications Used in IVF

Throughout the course of IVF treatment, you may need several types of medications. Each recommended medication has its important purpose in the process, should be used at a precipice point in the cycle, and used according to the explicit directions. You may be given injectable or oral medications, and how the medications affect you will be monitored through the process by your care team.

Ovarian Stimulation Medicines

These medications are specifically used to encourage the ovaries to produce more than one egg at a time. Medications provided can include clomiphene citrate, synthetic human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), follicle stimulating hormones (FSH), and gonadotropin-releasing hormones (GnRH). Some of the side effects associated with these medications can include:

  • Heightened risk of multiples
  • Mood swings
  • Heightened risk of miscarriage
  • Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea

Ovulation Prevention Medications

Medications like GnRH antagonists and agonists are used to prevent your body from releasing the developing eggs before hey are fully matured and ready for retrieval. Side effects can include:

  • Headaches
  • Hot flashes
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Vaginal dryness and painful sex
  • Changes in breast size

Uterine Lining Preparation Medications

Uterine lining preparation medications like progesterone are used to prepare the uterine lining for embryo transfer and implantation. Side effects of progesterone can include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Vaginal discharge
  • fatigue
  • Breast tenderness
  • Sneezing, coughing, or runny nose
  • Difficulty urinating

Egg Retrieval and Embryo Development

In the days leading up to egg retrieval, it will be important to take all prescribed medications as directed. When you arrive for your appointment, you will be sedated and kept comfortable. The doctor will use a transvaginal ultrasound probe and a thin needle to retrieve the eggs using light suction. Egg retrieval is generally a short process that takes about 20 minutes. 

Once the eggs are collected, they are placed in a culture medium for safekeeping and taken to the lab. At the lab, mature, healthy eggs will be combined with the healthiest sperm to create embryos. The embryos are kept in an incubator where they are closely monitored for development for several days.

Embryo Transfer and Post-Transfer Care

Healthy embryos are allowed to incubate for up to five or six days under a watchful eye. When it is time for embryo transfer, the best embryos are chosen for the procedure, and any remaining viable embryos may be preserved to be used in future IVF cycles. During the embryo transfer:

  1. You will be provided a mild sedative to keep you comfortable
  2. A long, flexible catheter will be inserted into your uterus through your cervix and vagina
  3. The healthiest embryos will be pushed into your uterus using a syringe

Embryo transfer is not considered painful, but you may feel a bit of cramping through the process. After transfer, you will be instructed to return home, resume normal activities, and avoid anything especially vigorous or physically challenging.

It can take some time to determine if the IVF cycle was successful and whether any of the embryos implanted. Typically, you will return to the clinic for a pregnancy blood test somewhere around two weeks after the eggs were initially retrieved and fertilized. If your blood shows you are pregnant, you will then transition to another doctor for prenatal care. If you are not pregnant, you and the fertility specialist will discuss next steps and whether to try another IVF cycle.

Contact Our Chattanooga or Knoxville Office to Learn More About Our IVF Services

As a first-time patient, the IVF treatment process can feel overwhelming. From pre-testing and consultations, to creating an IVF cycle plan and handling different medications, there is a lot to take in. However, having a good support network, remaining optimistic, and having the best fertility care team can make all the difference in the experience.

The Fertility Center in Chattanooga and Knoxville offers IVF services designed to support every patient through every step of the process. Contact us to learn more about our services.