For many people, the phrase “infertility treatment” sparks the instant thought of in vitro fertilization or IVF. However, in reality, 50 percent of all treatment cycles performed at Shady Grove Fertility are considered more basic than IVF, or sometimes called “low-tech.” In fact, depending on the age and diagnosis of a patient, low-tech infertility treatments, such as intrauterine insemination (IUI), is often the first treatment approach.
What low-tech infertility treatments are available?
Depending on your diagnosis and medical history, there are three low-tech infertility treatments available to patients:
- Timed Intercourse
The simplest treatment option available, timed intercourse helps a couple predict when they will be ovulating and the best time to conceive.
- Ovulation Induction
For women who may not ovulate regularly, oral medication is often prescribed to help stimulate the ovaries to produce eggs. Ovulation induction is often paired with timed intercourse or intrauterine insemination.
- Intrauterine Insemination (IUI)
IUI is the process whereby a concentrated sperm sample is placed in your uterus. IUI is often recommended for patients who are using donor sperm or those diagnosed with mild male-factor infertility, irregular ovulation, a single blocked Fallopian tube, or unexplained infertility.
How successful is IUI?
In discussing what the “typical” success rate for IUI is, it’s important to know what the average fertile couple’s chance of pregnancy is on any given month. For couples with no difficulty achieving a pregnancy and engaging in regular intercourse without contraception, the chance of pregnancy per month of ovulation is largely dependent on the age of the woman. For women up to the early-30s, the natural pregnancy rate is about 20 to 25 percent per cycle. This declines significantly through the mid and later 30s, and by the early 40s, the chance of pregnancy is about 5 percent per cycle. This age-related decrease is due primarily to a decline in the quality of the eggs within the ovaries.
The goal of IUI is to help patients achieve pregnancy at rates closer to the natural rate per cycle for women their same age without infertility.
As the chance of pregnancy per treatment cycle is modest, it may take more than one cycle of treatment in order to achieve a pregnancy. The chance of pregnancy with IUI declines slightly (by approximately 2 to 3 percent) with each consecutive unsuccessful treatment cycle. Therefore, if there has not been a pregnancy after 3 to 4 cycles of treatment, it may be advisable to move to more advanced treatments such as IVF.
Conversely, success rates are much higher than average among patients with pregnancies in previous IUI cycles. Therefore, women who have had pregnancies with previous IUI attempts are generally good candidates for repeat IUI treatment.
Because the chance of pregnancy with IUI for women over the age of 40 is low, and because fertility is declining rapidly at this age, it may be advisable by their physician to move to IVF earlier in the treatment timeline.
Low-Tech Infertility Treatments: Pregnancy Rates by Diagnosis
In addition to female reproductive age, a couple’s prognosis for success with IUI depends on their diagnosis. This treatment is most successful in couples where the primary cause for infertility is ovulatory dysfunction (or failure to regularly ovulate, as in women with PCOS). In these cases, the treatment comes closest to restoring the natural per cycle pregnancy rate.
IUI is also quite successful for the treatment of mild male factor or unexplained infertility, although the success rates are slightly lower for those couples where ovulatory dysfunction is the only problem.
IUI is less successful if the cause of infertility involves diseased Fallopian tubes, endometriosis, decreased egg quality, or uterine factors as treatment does not improve the quality of the eggs within the ovaries or correct any anatomical abnormalities.
Our philosophy at Shady Grove Fertility has always been to tailor our patients’ treatment to their specific diagnoses and circumstances. Our goal is to make sure our patients achieve the best possible chance of success with using the simplest and most cost effective approach.
For more information on low-tech infertility treatments, or to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians, please speak with one of our friendly New Patient Liaisons by calling 877-971-7755.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness as of October 2017.