Speaking the language of IVF

Speaking the language of IVF

When my husband and I started to walk the path of IVF back in 2016, I don’t think either of us were prepared for the plethora of new terms and for want of a better phrase, ‘medical jargon’ that we would have to get accustomed to.

Whether via letters outlining the outcome of certain parts of the process, like how many embryos had been ‘cryopreserved’ or lengthy acronyms banded about like no tomorrow on forums to which we largely nodded at and then googled later, it can all be rather baffling.

So, firstly and before we delve in, always ask the question. Always, always. The people running IVF clinics, the consultants, nurses, it’s all very second nature to them, their day to day language. At the point in which you are headed into IVF, you are probably very familiar with terms like ‘ovulation’, ‘luteal phase’ and maybe even ‘cervical mucus’. But entering this whole new and rather scientific approach to achieving parenthood is an entirely new kettle of fish.

Something I always say to people going through IVF is that this isn't something happening to you. You are not a bystander or simply a vessel. Some medical terms and protocols can seem daunting on many levels, especially if the language used is so, and quite rightly, unfamiliar. I remember being told in school that raising your hand to ask what you might think is a silly question could actually help many more students in the class who are also wondering the same.

Do it. Raise your hand if you want something better explained. Until then, I hope the following helps.

Below are some of the common terms you may come across, that I myself did. It’s not an exhaustive list but rather one pulled together after leafing through a lot of the written correspondence from CREATE that we received, and selecting a number that at the time were lost on me. A few of the below are also terms that people have suggested that I include, a bit more of the IVF ‘slang’ if you like, commonly found on forums.

Remember though, all assisted fertility protocols are different so if there are some terms below that never crop up in yours, don’t worry.

AMH test; An AMH test is a blood test that measures your level of Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH). This is a hormone produced by developing eggs in the ovary, giving a guide of a woman's ovarian (egg) reserve.

Advanced Ultrasound Scan; A sophisticated scan that will measure your Antral Follicle Count, your ovaries, womb lining, blood flow to your follicles and identify any abnormalities that may need further investigation.

Antral Follicle Count (AFC); A way of determining your ovarian reserve of eggs via a Transvaginal Ultrasound where follicles are counted and measured.

Blastocyst; A human embryo 5-6 days after fertilisation with a complex cellular structure formed by approximately 200 cells. This is an advanced stage of development, prior to implantation within the womb.

Buserelin; A hormone therapy drug that works by acting on the pituitary gland in your brain to stop the production of natural hormones that control the release of eggs from your ovaries. Can also be known by its brand name Suprecur.

Cryopreserved; Frozen. So if you are freezing eggs/embryos/sperm you may receive a letter to confirm this and see this word instead of ‘frozen’. Sometimes also referred to as Cryostorage/cryostored.

Egg collection; The process of collecting eggs from developed follicles in preparation for fertilisation. This is usually performed under sedation. Sometimes referred to as Egg Retrieval.

Endometrial scratch; Also known as endometrial injury, is a procedure undertaken to disrupt the endometrium (womb lining) some weeks prior to embryo transfer. It is thought this disruption can somehow increase the chance of an embryo implanting.

Endometrium; The lining of a woman’s womb. Fertility consultants will be measuring this in the lead up to an embryo transfer to ascertain whether it is of optimum thickness for implantation to take place. Medication can help to thicken the lining and this might become part of your protocol and is very common.

ET; Embryo Transfer.

Fertilisation; The moment when a sperm and egg join together, and the genes from the mother and father combine to form a new life. With IVF treatment, this occurs outside of the body, in preparation for embryo transfer.

FET; Frozen Embryo Transfer.

Follicles; Fluid-filled structures or sacs in which eggs develop within the ovaries.

Gestational sac; The first sign of early pregnancy, seen via ultrasound.

Gonal-F; An injection of a naturally occurring hormone used to stimulate a follicle to develop and mature.

HFEA Forms; Before you commence IVF treatment, you and your partner will be asked to complete a number of forms required by the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority). These include consent forms about your treatment and storage of eggs/sperm/embryos and Welfare of the Child forms (considering those to be potentially created via IVF, or those already existing within the family and your history).

HyCoSy; Hysterosalpingo-contrast-sonography is a procedure used to assess the patency of the fallopian tubes using advanced ultrasound to test for common symptoms such as blocked fallopian tubes.

ICSI; Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection - performed in a lab after egg collection, involving the injection of a single sperm into the fluid contents of the egg cell, called cytoplasm. A glass pipette, which is finer than a human hair, is used to collect a single sperm and inject it into the egg. The fertilised embryo(s) is then transferred to the women’s womb. Other than this element in the lab, your experience of treatment is the same as that of patients undergoing IVF. This is a common route of IVF for those experiencing male factor infertility.

Implantation; The attachment of the fertilised egg or blastocyst to the wall of the uterus/womb to signal the start of pregnancy.

Initial Consultation and Scan; Sometimes referred to as IC, this is the first step to having fertility treatment. At CREATE, you will have an Initial Consultation and Advanced Ultrasound Scan with expert clinicians.

IVF; In Vitro Fertilisation - ‘in vitro’ essentially means ‘outside of the body’. So therefore it is the means of fertilisation outside of the body.

IVF Cycle; A complete round of treatment, including all parts of the agreed protocol.

Medicated or Natural Cycle FET; There are two possible options for performing a frozen embryo transfer (FET): Natural-Cycle FET (NC-FET) and medicated FET. A natural cycle FET is ideal for woman with regular ovulation and monthly menstrual cycles. In a medicated FET, Oestrogen and Progesterone are administered to mimic the body’s cycle and help the endometrium thicken and become receptive.

Morphology; A measure of the size and shape of sperm.

Motility; A measure of the movement and swimming of sperm.

Natural Cycle; An IVF treatment where no drugs are used to induce egg production.

OHSS; Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome - a medical condition that can occur in some women who take fertility medication to stimulate egg growth.

Oligoasthenoteratozoospermia (OAT); A condition that includes a low number of sperm, poor sperm movement and abnormal sperm shape. OAT is the most common cause of male sub fertility and is generally only suitable for ICSI treatment if repeated tests show no improvement.

Ovitrelle; A copy of the natural hormone ‘human chorionic gonadotropin’ or hCG, also known as the 'pregnancy' hormone. Because of its similarity to luteinising hormone (LH), Ovitrelle is also used to trigger ovulation. It is used in women who have received treatment to stimulate their ovaries, to trigger ovulation (the release of eggs by the ovaries) and the development of a special structure on the ovary that helps pregnancy.

PICSI; A method of sperm selection which is in addition to ICSI. PICSI helps embryologists in sperm selection.

Progesterone; Used to support early pregnancy in women having IVF. It is usual for this to be administered via a pessary. Progesterone acts on the womb lining and causes it to thicken in preparation for a fertilised egg to implant. As a side note, it is normal to have constipation while on this treatment. A common type of progesterone used in IVF treatment is Utrogestan.

PUPO; Pregnant Until Proven Otherwise. A common fertility slang term used on fertility forums once a woman has undergone a successful embryo transfer. However, pregnancy is not actually achieved until implantation has successfully occurred and this can only be measured up to 14 days after transfer depending on the stage of the embryo at transfer, via a urine or blood test.

Transvaginal Ultrasound; An internal ultrasound examination via the vagina to observe the female reproductive organs including the uterus (womb), fallopian tubes, ovaries, cervix and vagina. This is a common fertility related procedure.

TSH; Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. A TSH test is a blood test that measures this hormone and most clinics require this to be read and results supplied to them before treatment can commence given that there is evidence that thyroid hormones play a big part in fertility and pregnancy. If the thyroid is over or under active, this can affect ovulation regulation and reduce fertility.

Zygote; The union of the sperm cell and the egg cell. Also known as a fertilised ovum (egg).