Intrauterine Insemination (IUI)
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is a procedure for treating infertility. The procedure for intrauterine insemination is straightforward; it takes about 15 to 20 minutes and is usually done in a doctor's office or clinic. Sperm that have been "washed" and concentrated are placed directly in your uterus on the day after your ovary releases one or more eggs to be fertilized. The hoped-for outcome of intrauterine insemination is for the sperm to swim into the fallopian tubes and fertilize a waiting egg, resulting in a normal pregnancy.
Depending on the reasons for infertility, intrauterine insemination can be coordinated with your normal cycle or done in conjunction with fertility medications. A couple's ability to become pregnant depends on many different factors.
Intrauterine insemination is used most often in couples who have:
- Mild male factor infertility (subfertility). Your partner's semen analysis, one of the first steps in the medical assessment of infertility, may show below-average sperm concentration, weak movement (motility) of sperm, or abnormalities in sperm size and shape (morphology). IUI can overcome these problems because preparing sperm for the procedure helps separate the highly motile, normal sperm from those of lower quality.
- Cervical factor infertility. Your cervix is at the lower end of the uterus and provides the opening between your vagina and uterus. With intercourse, your partner ejaculates into your vagina, and the sperm swim through the cervical opening into your uterus, then to the fallopian tubes to search for a waiting egg. The fluid produced by the cervix around the time of ovulation is supposed to provide an ideal environment for sperm to travel from your vagina to the fallopian tubes. However, if the cervical fluid is too thick it may impede the sperm's journey. Intrauterine insemination (IUI) bypasses the cervix, depositing sperm directly into your uterus and increasing the number of sperm available to meet the awaiting egg.
- Semen allergy. Rarely, women have an allergy to proteins in their partner's semen, so ejaculation into the vagina causes redness, burning and swelling where the semen has contacted the skin. A condom can protect you from the symptoms, but it also prevents pregnancy. If your sensitivity is severe, IUI can be effective, since many of the semen proteins are removed before the sperm is inserted.
- Unexplained infertility. IUI is often performed as a first treatment for unexplained infertility, sometimes in conjunction with ovulation-inducing medications.
- Donor sperm. For people who need to use donor sperm to get pregnant, IUI can be used to achieve pregnancy. Frozen donor sperm specimens are obtained from certified labs and thawed before the IUI procedure.
Intrauterine insemination is a relatively simple and safe procedure, and the risk of serious complications is low. Risks include:
- Infection. Less than 1 percent of women experience infection as a result of the procedure.
- Multiple pregnancies. Particularly when coordinated with ovulation-inducing medications, the risk of multiple pregnancies increases significantly. Multiple pregnancies inherently have higher risks than do single pregnancies, including early labor and low birth weight.