For more than two decades, IVF has helped couples overcome frustrating sources of infertility, such as unexplained infertility, tubal factor infertility, male factor infertility, immunologic problems, and more. Although IVF is a successful and rewarding experience for thousands of patients every year, it is a complex procedure. For those considering IVF treatment, the unfamiliar equipment and medications can create some anxiety and confusion.
At our premier fertility center in the Encino and Los Angeles area, we want to help ensure patients feel well informed and comfortable with the IVF treatment option. Let's look at one of the most common patient concerns - fertility medications - and how we use IVF drugs to give you the best possible chance of pregnancy.
The Basics of the IVF Cycle
The IVF process is often referred to as a cycle, which takes about four to six weeks. The first two weeks involve fertility medications that encourage your body to produce multiple eggs. We will use frequent ultrasounds and blood tests to monitor how the eggs are developing. When the eggs are ready, we administer a special injection known as the "trigger shot" to induce ovulation.
Within 34 to 36 hours of the trigger shot, the eggs are carefully retrieved and fertilized with sperm from your partner or donor. Once the eggs have been successfully fertilized, they are called embryos. After one to five days of growth, we will select one or two embryos - depending on your age and the embryo quality - to transfer back into your body. Two weeks after embryo transfer, you can perform a pregnancy test.
Understanding IVF Medications
The first step in the IVF cycle is hormone therapy, but some women are afraid of painful injections or are concerned about drug safety. Most patients are relieved to hear that new technologies now allow for fewer injections and smaller needle sizes, and that many of the drugs have been used safely and successfully for more than 30 years.
For patients undergoing IVF using their own eggs, the hormone treatment is necessary for three reasons:
- To prevent early ovulation
- To increase the number of eggs produced
- To induce ovulation on a specific day
The hormones used in IVF help create a predictable ovulation process so that the in vitro attempt can move forward smoothly and on schedule.
Preventing Early Ovulation
Starting around day 21 of your menstrual cycle, you will take a daily dose of a medication known as a GnRH agonist to temporarily turn off your own hormones. This step is important because it helps avoid interference from your natural hormones that could cause early ovulation. The drug is often given as a nasal spray or occasionally by injection.
Stimulating Egg Development
Now that your natural hormones have been turned off, we need to stimulate egg development. In your natural menstrual cycle, your body produces just one egg a month. By injecting hormones called gonadotropins, your body is stimulated to produce and ripen multiple eggs at a time.
This step in the IVF cycle is known as ovarian stimulation, or "superovulation, and lasts about 12 to 14 days. Most women learn to give themselves the small, daily injections at home as a matter of convenience. Depending on how your body responds during this phase, your dose may change.
Triggering Egg Release
The timing of ovulation - or when your body releases the eggs - is key. For IVF, we need to retrieve the eggs just before they are released from the ovarian follicles where they have been growing. If we retrieve the eggs too early or too late, they won't develop into healthy embryos. That's why during your hormone treatment, we will perform several ultrasounds and blood tests to be sure the eggs are at the right stage of development before retrieving them.
When the follicles appear fully developed, you will receive an injection of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This injection, administered at our office, will trigger the follicles to mature in preparation for retrieval.
Learn More about IVF Treatment
Our specialists at the Center for Fertility and Gynecology recognize that infertility is a deeply personal issue that raises a lot of questions and concerns. If you are considering IVF to help grow your family, we encourage you to schedule a consultation. We look forward to earning your trust and confidence in this process of fulfilling your dream.