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In Vitro Fertilization
(In-Vitro Fertilization, IVF)

Facts on In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

Patient Comments

Primary infertility, is the inability of a couple to become pregnant (regardless of cause) after one year of unprotected sexual intercourse using no birth control methods. This is in contrast to secondary infertility, which refers to a couple who cannot conceive a pregnancy when they have previously conceived together.

Primary infertility affects about 6.1 million people in the United States, representing about 10% of men and women of reproductive age. Assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) are techniques to help a woman become pregnant, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), and other similar procedures.

IVF was used successfully for the first time in the United States in 1981. More than 4 million babies have been born worldwide as a result of using in vitro fertilization techniques. IVF offers infertile couples a chance to have a child who is biologically related to them. In 2015, more than 1.6% of infants born in the US are a result of a pregnancy conceived by assisted reproductive technologies.

With IVF, a method of assisted reproduction, a man's sperm and the woman's egg are combined in a laboratory dish, where fertilization occurs. The resulting embryo or embryos is/are then transferred to the woman's uterus (womb) to implant and develop naturally. Usually, two to four embryos are placed in the woman's uterus at one time. Each attempt is called a cycle.

The term "test tube baby" has been used in the past to refer to children conceived with this technique. The first so-called test tube baby, Louise Brown, reached age 39 in 2017. She was born in England.

Only a small percentage of infertile couples actually use IVF. IVF is usually the treatment of choice for a woman with blocked, severely damaged, or no Fallopian tubes. IVF is also used to overcome infertility caused by endometriosis or problems with the sperm (such as low sperm count). Couples who simply can't conceive and have tried other infertility methods (such as intrauterine insemination) that have not worked for them can also try IVF.

Last Reviewed 12/19/2017

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about In Vitro Fertilization (IVF):

In Vitro Fertilization - Experience

Please share your experience with IVF.

In Vitro Fertilization - Other Techniques

What other assisted reproduction techniques have you tried, and have any been successful?

In Vitro Fertilization - Egg or Sperm Donation

Please share your experience with donating eggs or sperm for IVF.

In Vitro Fertilization - Experience

Please describe your experience with in vitro fertilization.

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) Medical Definition

IVF, a laboratory procedure in which sperm are placed with an unfertilized egg in a Petri dish to achieve fertilization. The embryo is then transferred into the uterus to begin a pregnancy or cryopreserved (frozen) for future use. IVF was originally devised to permit women with damaged or absent Fallopian tubes to have a baby. Normally a mature egg is released from the ovary (ovulated), then enters the Fallopian tube, and waits in the neck of the tube for a sperm to fertilize it. With defective Fallopian tubes, this is not possible. The first IVF baby, Louise Joy Brown, was born in England in 1978.

In vitro fertilization literally means "fertilization in glass." A child born by in vitro fertilization is inaccurately known a "test tube baby."


Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Assisted Reproduction Technology »

Infertility affects approximately 13-14% of reproductive-aged couples.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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