When navigating the world of fertility, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with common fertility-related terms. Understanding these terms will empower you to have more informed discussions with your healthcare provider and better comprehend the various aspects of your fertility journey.
Common key fertility-related terms you should know:
- Fertility: The ability to conceive and have biological children.
- Infertility: The inability to conceive after a year of regular unprotected intercourse (or six months for women over 35) or the inability to carry a pregnancy to term.
- Ovulation: The release of a mature egg from the ovary, which typically occurs monthly in women of reproductive age.
- Menstrual Cycle: The recurring process in women, marked by the shedding of the uterine lining (menstruation) and the subsequent growth and release of an egg (ovulation).
- Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART): Medical procedures used to assist with fertility, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), and egg or sperm donation.
- In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): An assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedure in which eggs are retrieved from the ovaries, fertilized with sperm in a laboratory, and then transferred back into the uterus for implantation.
- Intrauterine Insemination (IUI): A fertility treatment where prepared sperm is directly inserted into the uterus during the woman’s fertile period to increase the chances of fertilization.
- ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection): A method of fertilizations in which a single sperm is directly injected into a mature egg under laboratory conditions.
- Embryo Transfer: The procedure of placing fertilized embryos into the uterus during IVF treatment or embryo donation.
- FET (Frozen Embryo Transfer): A embryo transfer procedure in which previously frozen embryos are thawed and transferred into the uterus for implantation.
- PGT (Preimplantation Genetic Testing): A genetic testing procedure performed on embryos prior to transfer to screen for various genetic mutations and abnormalities in chromosomes.
- Ovarian Reserve: The quantity and quality of a woman’s remaining eggs.
- Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGT): Genetic testing is performed on embryos before transfer to identify genetic disorders or chromosomal abnormalities.
- Sperm Count: The concentration of sperm in a semen sample, which is evaluated to assess male fertility.
- Fallopian Tubes: Tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus, where fertilization typically occurs.
- Endometrium: The lining of the uterus that thickens during the menstrual cycle and provides a receptive environment for embryo implantation.
- Ovarian Reserve: The evaluation of egg supply through blood tests, including Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH), Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), Estradiol (E2), and Luteinizing Hormone (LH).
- Infectious Disease Testing: Prior to egg freezing, necessary labs include screenings for Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and Syphilis.
- Oocyte: An oocyte refers to an egg, and each egg is contained within an ovarian follicle.
- Follicle: Microscopic eggs within the ovaries are not visible on ultrasound. As eggs mature, they are surrounded by fluid-filled cysts known as follicles. Transvaginal ultrasound can typically detect multiple follicles in each ovary, with each follicle containing one egg. During an IVF cycle, the growth of follicles is monitored, and when they reach a size of 15-20mm, it indicates the readiness of the egg inside for retrieval.
- AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone): A hormone produced by the ovaries that are often used to assess a woman’s egg production capability and potential for a successful pregnancy.
- FSH (Follicle-Stimulating Hormone): A hormone produced by the pituitary gland that stimulates the growth of follicles (fluid-filled sacs containing eggs) in the ovaries. FSH is a hormone that stimulates the development of eggs during the menstrual cycle. Higher doses of FSH may be administered during fertility treatments.
- Luteinizing Hormone (LH): A hormone that triggers ovulation and the release of the egg from the follicle. It may be added to the medication protocols to promote follicle growth.
- Antagonist Medication: Medication used to prevent the premature release of eggs and inhibit increased LH levels.
- Leuprolide Acetate (Lupron): This medication can serve as an antagonist or be used as a trigger shot, depending on the specific stage of the cycle.
- Gonadotropin (Gonal F, Follistim, Menopur): These are hormones naturally produced by the body to stimulate monthly ovulation. During an egg freezing cycle, administer these hormones through injectable medications to simultaneously encourage multiple follicles’ growth.
- Trigger Shot (Ovidrel, Novarel, Pregnyl, Lupron): In a natural menstrual cycle, the body releases an LH surge that triggers egg maturation and ovulation. A trigger shot is an injection that mimics this natural LH surge. The most common medication used to trigger ovulation is human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Lupron may also be used to trigger or reduce bloating after the procedure.
- Medication Protocols: Treatment plans involving specific medications can vary greatly between individuals and cycles and are determined by the healthcare provider. Most people tolerate injections well and can use numbing patches or ice to minimize discomfort.
- Common Side Effects: Fatigue, bloating, headache, and emotional changes are among the most frequently reported side effects. Any weight gain experienced during the process is typically temporary and resolves by the next menstrual cycle.
- Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS): A rare side effect characterized by excessive bloating. It is more common in individuals with high AMH levels and at a younger age. OHSS can be prevented by using Lupron towards the end of the cycle or by administering lower-dose medications. It is important to avoid unprotected sexual intercourse during the stimulation phase to prevent accidental pregnancy.
- Quality of Eggs: Refers to the likelihood of genetic abnormalities in embryos resulting from the fertilization of eggs.
Conditions that can affect the female reproductive system:
- PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome): A common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age, often characterized by an imbalance in sex hormones. It can manifest in various ways, affecting the ovaries and, consequently, the menstrual cycle, fertility, and overall health.
- Endometriosis: a chronic medical condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (endometrium) grows outside the uterus, typically in the pelvic region. This tissue can cause pain, inflammation, and the formation of adhesions (scar tissue).
- Fibroids: Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop in or around the uterus. They can cause heavy or painful periods, pelvic pain, and reproductive problems.
- Ovarian cysts: Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can form on or inside the ovaries. Most cysts are harmless and resolve on their own, but larger cysts or certain types can cause pain or other symptoms.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): PID is an infection of the female reproductive organs, usually caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It can lead to inflammation, scarring, and damage to the fallopian tubes and other reproductive structures.
- Adenomyosis: Adenomyosis is a condition where the tissue lining the uterus (endometrium) grows into the muscular wall of the uterus. It can cause heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding, pain, and enlargement of the uterus.
- Polyps: Uterine polyps are growths that form in the lining of the uterus. They can cause irregular menstrual bleeding, bleeding between periods, and fertility issues.
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): PMS refers to a combination of physical and emotional symptoms that occur before menstruation. Common symptoms include mood swings, bloating, breast tenderness, and fatigue.
- Pelvic organ prolapse: This condition occurs when one or more organs in the pelvic area (such as the uterus, bladder, or rectum) droop or descend into the vaginal canal. It can cause discomfort, urinary problems, and a feeling of pressure in the pelvic area.
- Vaginal infections: Various infections can affect the vagina, including yeast infections (Candida), bacterial vaginosis, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These can cause itching, abnormal discharge, and discomfort.
- Menstrual disorders: There are several menstrual disorders that can impact women’s reproductive health, such as irregular periods, heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia), or absence of menstruation (amenorrhea).
By familiarizing yourself with these fertility-related terms, you’ll be better equipped to navigate discussions with your healthcare team, understand fertility treatment options, and actively participate in decisions related to your fertility journey.
Remember, your healthcare provider is always there to answer any questions you may have and guide you through the process.
Anna Haotanto is the Founder of Zora Health and a passionate advocate for women’s empowerment. Anna’s personal experiences with egg-freezing, PCOS and the challenges of fertility have fueled her mission to provide high-quality information, financing, and support to help women and couples navigate their fertility journeys with confidence. She is also recognised for her achievements in finance, entrepreneurship, and women’s empowerment, and has been featured in various media outlets. You can also follow her on Linkedin or Instagram.
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