When considering IVF (In-Vitro Fertilisation) and the fertility clinic best for your treatment, it’s important to have a basic understanding of IVF success rates. In this article, we catch up with medical experts from the UK and internationally to find out more about IVF success rates and how to use them. We also uncover other factors patients should consider when choosing a fertility clinic and the risks involved with the treatment.
Over to Sophie Braybrook…
What is IVF?
IVF is one of the most invasive and expensive fertility treatments, but it’s also one of the most successful, depending on your circumstances.
One cycle of IVF takes around 3 – 6 weeks, and typical birth rates range from 7% – 30% per embryo transferred, depending on the woman’s age and the reason for infertility.
What Happens During IVF?
IVF can be broken down into the following six steps:
The suppression of your natural cycle with medication
Boosting your egg supply with a fertility hormone which encourages the ovaries to produce more eggs than usual
Maturing your eggs and monitoring your progress with vaginal ultrasound scans and, occasionally, blood tests
Collecting the eggs by inserting a needle into the ovaries
Fertilisation of the eggs – the eggs are mixed with the sperm for a few days to allow them to be fertilised
Transferring the embryo(s) into the womb
Who Undergoes IVF?
According to Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), most patients undergoing IVF in 2017 in the UK were heterosexual couples (90.7%); however, the figures for other groups are increasing, with same-sex partnerships making up 5.9% and single patients (3%) and surrogates (0.4%) choosing this treatment too.
The most common reasons patients choose this treatment is due to fertility problems such as:
Blocked or damaged fallopian tubes
Low sperm counts, or high numbers of sperm with abnormal shapes or movement
Ovulation difficulties, who have been unsuccessful with other, often less invasive treatments
Who’s IVF Not Suitable for?
Patients could fall into the above categories but be unsuitable for IVF; we asked two leading fertility clinics to tell us about patients they’ve turned away.
Greece’s EmbryoClinic’s told us that “At present, we do not accept female patients over 50 years old and patients of high risk due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Read More: 4 Reasons to Go Abroad for Fertility Treatment
The clinic added: “If, after medical examination, a patient is deemed inappropriate for any or all stages of IVF treatment, this doesn’t mean that they cannot have a child.” In these cases, EmbryoClinic will discuss alternative options, including gestation surrogacy, and advise the patient or couple accordingly.
Meanwhile, Harley Street Fertility Clinic (HSFC) informed Fertility Help Hub that “We very rarely turn patients away from the clinic. Dr Venkat can only recall two such cases in the history of the clinic.”
The first case was an abusive patient who exhibited threatening behaviour towards staff, and the second case was that of a single woman was over 50 years of age and wanted IVF treatment using donor eggs.
When the clinic’s ethics committee reviewed the second case, they found that the woman had almost no support network and would most likely struggle to look after a baby, especially if she had complications during pregnancy or fell ill during the early days. “Hence, we felt that we could not offer her treatment because we had material concerns regarding the welfare of the potential child,” the HSFC concluded.
IVF Success Rates
What do we mean when we say ‘success rates’? In this article, ‘success rate’ refers to live births per embryo transferred.
The stats from HFEA’s 2017 report (as seen on the NHS website) show the average chance of live birth from IVF treatment depending on a woman’s age, as age is one of the main factors to consider when measuring IVF success rates
The following stats are for heterosexual couples using their own eggs and sperm; they use the per embryo transferred measure:
Under 35: 29%
Over 44: 2%.
Read More: In Your Forties and Trying to Conceive?
This same HFEA document also reveals interesting data regarding success rates of couples using alternative techniques and shows slightly higher success rates for frozen treatment cycles, which may be explained by embryos being frozen at younger ages, when fertility is higher.
The document also reports higher birth rates with the use of donor eggs and sperm, as this method removes many reasons for infertility, including age, low sperm count and quality.
Listen: Fertility Springboard Podcast – How to Optimise Sperm/Egg Quality
Clinics’ IVF Success Rates
When choosing your clinic, check their IVF success rates using HFEA’s database and how they compare to the national average, and, when enquiring, make sure you ask for live birth rates rather than pregnancy rates.
It’s worth noting that a clinic’s success rate doesn’t directly reflect the clinic or its doctors. Instead, it’s a reflection on the patients clinics choose to work with, because some refuse to perform IVF on overweight patients or those over 50.
You might also find that clinics working with NHS and private patients have higher success rates for this same reason, as the NHS has a strict selection criterion which favours women with higher chances of conception.
Calculating Your IVF Success Rate
We know that IVF success rates depend on multiple factors, including age, reasons for infertility and whether your eggs are fresh or frozen, so, how does a clinic calculate your individual success rate?
Clinics can offer estimates calculated from patients.
HSFC told Fertility Help Hub that they provide patients with individual estimates based on investigation results from ultrasound scans, hormone tests and semen analysis, before factoring in the patient’s age and previous treatments.
Similarly, EmbryoClinic’s process for calculating individuals’ IVF success rates includes “Online consultations, medical history evaluations and investigation tests”.
EmbryoClinic also provides medical opinion for how the patient can best optimise their lifestyle, which is formed after learning of “patients’ individual needs, social backgrounds, religious beliefs, medical status and wellness.”
Increasing Your IVF Success Rates
When optimising your lifestyle in order to increase your chances of IVF success, medical professionals advise:
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
While being a healthy weight is thought of as having less impact on IVF success than other factors like age, those over- and underweight are thought to have lower chances of IVF success.
It’s common in overweight patients, for example, that fewer eggs will be harvested, fertilisation rates and embryo quality will be lower, and miscarriage rates higher.
Read More: Vegan Recipes to Fuel Fertility; How to Optimise Sperm Quality Through Nutrition and Are You Fit for Fertility?
Stress can be detrimental to IVF success. Luckily, there are a multitude of proven stress-reduction techniques like fertility mediation, acupuncture and other holistic techniques have seen increasing rates of pregnancy.
Consider Taking Supplements
Vitamin D is thought to increase chances of obtaining high-quality embryos and their successful implantation; omega-3 fatty acids, DHEA, and CoQ10 may increase sperm quality, and other supplements prove promising in other ways.
Related Article – Conception Help – Prepare Your Body with The Right Supplements
Have a chat with your doctor to find out what’s best for you.
Smoking affects egg and sperm quality, and so when undergoing IVF, smokers are more likely to see fewer eggs retrieved, more cycles where no eggs are fertilised and higher numbers of cancelled IVF cycles.
Don’t Obsess over IVF Success Rates!
IVF success rates are important to understand, but, when choosing your clinic, there are other factors to consider. “Fertility treatments are not (yet) an exact science,” HSFC told us. “We could take two very similar patients, perform the same treatment and end up with different outcomes or, similarly, we could perform the same treatment on a given patient and get different results.”
HSFC’s first piece of advice is to choose an experienced doctor, as they “Will be able to pick up on clues and make small changes to your treatment that could make all the difference.”
EmbryoClinic agreed: “The most important factor when choosing a clinic for IVF treatment is the education of the medical team and ability to treat patients and couples individually.
EmbryoClinic recommends checking the staff to patient ratio, seeing if the clinic has dedicated teams for each treatment, and noting the level of experience scientific staff have.
At EmbryoClinic, for example, it’s the Medical Director Dr Elias Tsakos who oversees all patients and performs the vast majority of treatments, and there are a further four consultant gynaecologists and two senior embryologists with over ten years of experience.
Continuity of Care
Make sure you check with your clinic that you will be seeing the same doctor throughout, and that they will manage your whole treatment, advises HSFC. “Good doctors are great at knowing their patients and, even with our best efforts, not everything makes it into the patient’s notes. So, it’s better if you see the same person.”
Multiple Initial Consultations
It’s fine if you’re not blown away by your first consultation. HSFC advise their patients to “have an initial consultation at two or three clinics to see where they feel most comfortable”.
Choose a Team You Trust
HSFC’s second piece of advice is to ensure you choose a team, and in particular, a consultant, you trust. “Frustratingly, when the outcome is negative, most of the time, doctors cannot explain why it didn’t work. So, a patient has to trust that the medical team did their very best.”
While IVF can provide incredible results, it’s important to be aware of the potential health risks:
Multiple births (twins/triplets), which increases the risk of miscarriage, anaemia, heavy bleeding and more
Ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo implants outside of the womb
Ovarian Hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), where too many eggs develop in the ovaries
Medication side effects: hot flushes and headaches among others
Mental health: IVF and infertility at large can take its toll on individuals and couples, so getting the right support is important.
Clinics like EmbryoClinic have multiple consultations, full medical and psychological assessments and offer counselling to IVF patients ahead of their treatment, so it’s also worth noting whether this is something your chosen clinic offers too.
Read More: Madeleine Shaw on How to Cope with Anxiety