There is a wealth of information and advice available for couples who have difficulty conceiving and wishing to start a family—however, the language and terminology used can be complicated, often making the process confusing and overwhelming.
To help those considering assisted fertility support, we asked an expert to decode a list of the most confusing medical terms used in the industry. Dr Victoria Walker, a leading fertility expert at Institut Marques—a leading fertility clinic that specialises in assisted reproduction treatments and techniques‚ explains the difference between IUI and IVF and much more.
An A-Z of fertility jargon
Artificial insemination: This term describes the process of sperm being inserted directly into a woman’s cervix or uterus to initiate a pregnancy.
Asthenozoospermia: This is the poor mobility or movement of sperm in the semen. If a man’s sperm has poor mobility, then a couple may find it challenging to conceive naturally.
Ectopic pregnancy: An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that occurs outside a woman’s uterus. For example, it could implant in the fallopian tubes, ovaries or abdominal cavity. Unfortunately, it is not possible for a foetus to develop outside the womb, and ectopic pregnancies can be dangerous for the mother.
Egg donation: Egg donation is a form of fertility treatment for women who are unable to use their own eggs for conception, but can still carry a child in their womb. Eggs which have been donated by a donor are fertilised with the woman’s partner’s sperm (or donor sperm if required) to create an embryo, and this is then transferred directly into the woman’s uterus to try to initiate a pregnancy.
Endometriosis: If a woman is diagnosed with endometriosis, it means that she has cells like those that would normally line her womb (endometrial tissue) but elsewhere in her body. This tissue will thicken, break down and bleed with her menstrual cycle (just like the lining of her womb) but this particular tissue and blood has no way of leaving her body—leading to pelvic pain, swelling, scarring, and difficulties becoming pregnant.
Endometrium: This is a thin membrane lining the inside of the womb, which the fertilised embryo embeds into.
Gamete: This is the name given to a reproductive cell which unites with another of the opposite sex at the point of conception. The male gamete is called a sperm, and the female gamete is called an ovum.
Intrauterine insemination (IUI): IUI is an assisted reproduction technique which involves placing a man’s sperm (from the partner or a donor) directly into the woman’s cervix or uterus around the time of ovulation. The aim of the technique is to increase the number of sperms that are able to reach the fallopian tubes, and subsequently increase the chance of pregnancy.” Artificial insemination and intrauterine insemination are synonymous.
In vitro fertilisation (IVF): IVF is an assisted reproduction technique which helps people with fertility problems to have a baby. During IVF, an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilised egg (called the embryo) is then returned to the woman’s womb where it will hopefully implant and develop into a baby.
Oligozoospermia: This is a term used by specialists to describe when a man has too few sperm to fertilise an egg, and is a common finding in male infertility.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is a common condition which is caused by an imbalance in the sex hormones, and affects one in ten women of childbearing age. The condition can cause menstrual abnormalities, skin and hair changes, obesity, infertility and other long-term health problems. Due to their hormonal imbalances, women with PCOS often have difficulty ovulating, and therefore of creating a pregnancy.
Subfertility: This is a term that is used by practitioners when a man or a woman’s fertility is not in peak condition.
Zygote: A zygote is an egg cell that has been fertilised by a sperm cell and contains the full set of DNA needed to make a baby.
This piece originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar UK