Once you are diagnosed with an infertility factor, it’s time to create a personalized treatment plan. This plan varies according to the factors identified by the fertility screening and diagnostic tests. Two of the most common treatments include intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in-vitro fertilization (IVF), two very different fertility procedures and treatments.
Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) Explained
Intrauterine insemination, also referred to as artificial insemination, bypasses the natural path of the sperm to the egg. When you’re timing intercourse for conception at home, sperm travels from the penis into the vagina, and (if all goes well), sperm continue past the cervix and into the uterine cavity where they hope to meet the egg in the fallopian tube or the uterus.
Countless things can go wrong during this journey. Examples include acidic vaginal secretions or immune responses that kill the sperm along the way. Sperm that aren’t strong or fast enough, or that are poorly shaped, don’t always complete the journey in time to meet the egg.
IUI bypasses that trek and places pre-washed sperm directly into the uterus, where they have a better chance of meeting the egg(s). In most cases, we’ll increase the odds of success by prescribing an oral fertility medication, ensuring there is more than one egg at the ready.
In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) Explained
In-vitro fertilization (IVF) goes multiple steps further than IUI. Rather than getting the sperm in place and hoping for natural fertilization and conception, IVF intentionally fertilizes eggs to create embryos in the lab. Once the eggs are fertilized, we sync the timing of the embryo transfer with nature’s conception rhythm (typically Day 5) and transfer fertilized eggs into the uterus.
This procedure is more involved than IUI. While IVF is typically considered “the last step” on the fertility treatment journey, that’s not the case for everyone. Some infertility diagnoses require going straight to IVF rather than wasting time and money on IUI or other treatment options.
5 Differences Between IUI and IVF
Here are five main differences between IUI and IVF.
1. IUI is less invasive
There is no doubt that IUI is less invasive than IVF. As a result, there are fewer appointments required overall. Depending on the reasons you’re pursuing IUI, you may or may not choose to use oral fertility medications. If you do, the oral medicines you take are less intense than injectable fertility medications, which have more notable side effects.
Once we’ve inserted the washed sperm into your uterus, you are free to go home and rest – and wait to see whether or not you are pregnant.
With IVF, on the other hand, injectable medications mean the release of exponentially more eggs. We monitor you closely to watch for the eggs’ maturation, and you have to return for us to retrieve the eggs. Once your embryos are successfully conceived in the lab, you return for their transfer – after which you wait for two weeks before coming in for your pregnancy test.
2. Oral (IUI) versus injectable (IVF) fertility medication side effects
We’ve referenced this above, but it is important to emphasize the difference between oral and injectable fertility medications.
Oral fertility medications (Clomiphene citrate). Oral medications (typically Clomid) are specifically prescribed to help women get pregnant at home or via IUI. They are designed to release no more than two eggs per cycle to increase the chances of conception while reducing the number of multiples conceived. In some cases, a woman may release three eggs, but more than that is rare if you are working with an experienced fertility specialist who cares about your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your yet-to-be-conceived babies.
Because Clomid is a more mild fertility medication, the side effects are also milder, making it easier on your system.
Injectable fertility medications (gonadotropin therapy). When you pursue IVF, the goal is to retrieve more eggs at one time to optimize the number of healthy embryos fertilized in the lab. This requires stronger fertility medications administered via injection. Unfortunately, the process of stimulating between 10 and 20 eggs means more intense side effects.
We recommend reading our Quick Guide to Oral & Injectable Fertility Medications to learn more about the differences between each one and what you can expect to experience. You will be carefully monitored regardless of which fertility medication you choose.
3. The costs
There is a notable difference in costs between IUI and IVF.
- The average cost of a single cycle of IUI in the U.S. is anywhere from $400 to $4000. Costs depend on the options you select and whether or not you opt for sperm washing to increase the number and quality of the sperm present after IUI.
- The average cost of a single cycle of IVF is about $15,000, and that price can be more if you choose options like PGD to select for healthier embryos.
Just remember, cause – rather than cost – should be the driving reason to pursue IUI over IVF. There are some infertility factors that IUI doesn’t help. If that is the case for you, it’s important to pursue IVF, even if it’s more expensive, to improve your chances of fertility treatment success.
4. The reasons for the treatment
You must choose a fertility specialist you can trust and who has your best interest, not profits, at heart. This is the best way to ensure you’re getting the personalized fertility support you need.
The most common reasons to pursue IUI include:
- Couples under 35 who aren’t getting pregnant at home but who don’t have infertility factors
- Women with men who suffer from low libido or sexual dysfunction
- Couples where the female has a healthy fertility assessment and the male has sperm that are functional, even if the count is lower-than-normal or there are minor issues with sperm shape and motion
- Healthy women seeking to get pregnant using a sperm donor
The most common reasons to pursue IVF include:
- Low ovarian reserve
- Women 40+ years old who want to beat the fertility clock
- Blocked fallopian tubes
- Severe endometriosis
- Severe male infertility factor
- Individuals or couples opting to use donor eggs or donor embryos
Again, your fertility specialist will go over your specific infertility factors and create a fertility treatment plan that is the most timely and affordable way to meet your family-building goals.
Are you interested in learning more about whether IUI or IVF makes the most sense for you? Schedule a consultation with the Reproductive Resource Center.