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What Factors Determine IVF Success Rates?

Published on April 12, 2016 by SCRC Contributor
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What factors determine IVF success rates?

Will IVF work for you? What are your chances of getting pregnant during an IVF cycle? How can you know if your IVF treatment will be a success? IVF is one of the most effective Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) in the world, but whether it will be effective for you in particular depends on a wide range of circumstances. The truth is, no one can tell you for sure whether IVF is the answer you are looking for, but there are some important factors which can affect the probable outcome of IVF treatment.

  • Age: IVF has been used successfully to help women at every stage of their reproductive life, so you should never let your age stop you from exploring IVF as an option. While age has been statistically tied to success rates for IVF, your body and your medical history are unique. In consultation with your doctor, the results of comprehensive blood and ultrasound testing are a better indicator of your candidacy for IVF than age alone.
  • Previous pregnancy:
    • If you have been pregnant before and have carried a baby to term, either with or without ART, you may have a greater chance of getting pregnant again with IVF.
    • Recurrent miscarriages can be an indicator of less success, because it may indicate that the particular infertility challenge you are facing is not one that responds well to IVF. If you have suffered previous miscarriages you should not rule out IVF automatically. Your doctor will be able to help you narrow down the probable causes of pregnancy loss and can advise you on your best course of action.
  • Type of fertility problem: IVF is an excellent choice to help patients and couples with a wide range of common fertility problems. Infertility caused by factors such as endometriosis or blockages of fallopian tubes, issues with ovulation, or male-factor infertility such as low sperm count or motility often respond very well to IVF. Unfortunately, there certain other fertility problems which are associated with less IVF success, such as:
    • Uterine abnormalities and fibroid tumors: Sometimes patients have a difficult time carrying a pregnancy to term because of structural problems with their uterus or benign fibroid tumors. Both of these issues can make it difficult or impossible for an embryo to implant and grow properly. Sometimes, however, problems like these can be resolved surgically, making pregnancy (with or without the help of IVF) possible.
    • Ovarian dysfunction: Problems with the ovaries, such as high follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels indicating low ovarian reserve, or poor egg quality can mean that IVF with your own eggs could be less successful.
    • Dual infertility factor: If both you and your partner are struggling with infertility problems, IVF may or may not be able to address both sides of the issue. Careful testing and in-depth consultation with your fertility experts will be able to give you a better idea of your individual situation.
    • Length of time that a couple has been infertile: Statistically, the chances of IVF success go down over time for couples who have been infertile for several years. In practice, only you and your doctor can decide if this is a significant factor in your case.
  • Using donor eggs: For older patients, or patients where concerns about ovarian reserve and egg quality are paramount, opting to use donor eggs may give you a higher chance of success than attempting IVF with your own eggs.
  • Lifestyle factors: While most factors affecting IVF success are out of your hands, with a doctor’s help you may be able to improve your chances by tackling these lifestyle issues:
    • Smoking: Cigarette smoke has serious reproductive consequences for both men and women. The sperm of male smokers has been found to have reduced fertilizing capacity, and embryos from that sperm also display lower rates of implantation. In female smokers, the aging of the ovaries is faster, and their uteruses are less receptive. Overall, the outcome of IVF cycles has been found to be significantly worse in female smokers, who may require twice as many IVF cycles to become pregnant.  
    • Overweight and obesity: Studies have shown that being overweight can have a strong effect on IVF success. Obesity can change how your body processes fertility medications and hormones, and can affect your menstrual cycle and ovulation. It can also make it more difficult to carry a baby to term.
  • Laboratory quality: Obviously, a laboratory plays a crucial part in IVF. Fertilization and the careful culturing of embryos before transfer requires a pristine environment. An excellent IVF lab will go above and beyond the basic requirements to ensure that embryos are given the best possible start.
    • Qualification and experience of embryologist: The embryologist prepares the eggs and sperm for fertilization and oversees the development of any resulting embryos. In some cases, they may perform advanced procedures such as Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) or assisted hatching in order to improve the chances of a successful cycle. A highly qualified and experienced embryologist is invaluable during these critical moments.
    • Air quality: Microorganisms such as germs or fungi can have an adverse effect on developing embryos, so excellent air quality is a must. Specially designed Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) units equipped with charcoal filters and high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) air filters and enough air pressure to completely change the air in the room 20 times per hour should be standard. 
    • Temperature and light: In the first few delicate hours and days of development, both of these factors are crucial. Keeping embryos at body temperature and filtering out ultraviolet light are two ways to eliminate stress which could damage growth.
  • Fertility clinic selection: Choosing a fertility clinic is a deeply personal decision, and one of the most important factors in IVF success. Because they are involved at every stage of the process, your fertility experts will have an enormous impact on your experience of IVF.
    • Experience and training of staff: Where your doctors, nurses, and technicians were trained and how long they have been practicing in the field is important. Don’t be afraid to ask about their qualifications and how they keep up with new developments in IVF and fertility medicine.
    • Types of patients accepted – age and fertility problem: Though every case is individual, a clinic which has had success for patients with a similar profile may offer you a higher chance of success with IVF
    • Success rate: Your fertility clinic should have a proven track record, but exactly how they measure success really matters. Some specific numbers you should ask about include:
      • Pregnancy ratio per embryo transfer
      • Pregnancy rate for couple’s age group
      • Live birth rate per IVF cycles
      • Rate of patients pregnant with multiples

Every fertility journey has an element of uncertainty, but there is a lot that your fertility clinic can do to contribute to IVF success by paying careful attention to every factor within their control. Millions of healthy babies have been born with the help of IVF, and it remains an excellent choice for many people who are struggling to get pregnant on their own.

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