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What is 'assisted conception'?

Assisted conception or assisted reproductive technology can help a woman to get pregnant through various treatments.

Posted: 8 September 2010
by Laura Lee Davies

Help with conception and fertility treatments

Assisted conception is when any means are used to help a woman conceive who is not able to or is having trouble getting pregnant just through sexual intercourse. Sometimes you will hear these treatments being referred to as Assisted Reproductive Technology (or ART). This can simply be giving the whole process a bit of a nudge or anything up to full-on medical involvement with the conception. Drugs will be used to help 'ripen' the eggs and make them more receptive to fertilisation.

There are various different ways in which assisted conception can take place:

Ovulation induction

This is used as a precursor to other courses of action like IVF but can be used on its own if the woman's egg production is the key issue. The woman will be prescribed clomiphene (or clomid) to take for a series of days each month in order to stimulate egg production.


Semen is gathered from the male and treated so that the sperm count is highly concentrated in the fluid which is then placed in the woman's uterus. This is quite non-invasive and is a useful method used when a man's sperm count is low. (That is, the semen he produces normally does not include a great number of motile or healthy sperm. It is possible to use a donor's sperm for this.)


In vitro fertilisation is probably the best known method of assisting conception and many people mistakenly tend to round up all treatments under this one name. In this instance, eggs are taken from the ovaries of the woman (or an egg donor) by surgery and then allowed to fertilise in a laboratory with sperm (from the woman's partner or, again, a donor), and then placed directly into the uterus by surgery. Egg collection is a short process that should not be painful and will take less than half an hour.


This is like IVF but here the sperm is actively injected into the eggs under laboratory conditions, rather than simply put together with the eggs, and they are left to fertilize. If the eggs are successfully fertlized through the ICSI process, they are placed into the uterus by surgery. ICSI stands for intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection and it is regarded by some doctors as preferable to IVF in instances where the male sperm is deemed to be particularly 'subfertile'.


The woman's eggs (one or possibly more) are taken from an ovary and a mixture of the egg and sperm is then placed directly into the fallopian tubes in the hope that fertilisation will occur. GIFT stands for gamete intra-fallopian tube transfer. Unlike IVF, this process does require surgery under general anasthetic. When the eggs and sperm are left to fertilise in a laboratory, this process is called ZIFT (zygote intra-fallopian tube transfer). Both of these procedures will be carried out only if the fallopian tubes are found to be healthy and working effectively.

Any form of assisted conception will be discussed fully with you by your doctor and it may be the case that you later go on to have another child without any treatment at all. However, these treatments are no guarantee of successful conception and, as with regular conception, the chances of success do drop as a woman gets older.

For more about assisted conception, visit the Infertility network.

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Have you had any treatments that you can share experiences and thoughts about?

Posted: 04/05/2006 at 17:43

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