Intrauterine insemination, or IUI, is a procedure in which a man’s sperm is placed directly into woman’s uterus. The woman’s eggs and ovaries are not affected or manipulated in this process. The goal of IUI is to facilitate fertilization by increasing the number of sperm that can reach the fallopian tubes, therefore increasing the chance of fertilization and subsequent pregnancy.
Couples who have struggled unsuccessfully for at least one year to get pregnant elect to undergo intrauterine insemination due to a variety of health conditions. These conditions are often low sperm count, decreased sperm mobility, abnormally thick cervical mucus, cervical scar tissue that inhibits the normal passage of sperm into the uterus, and ejaculation dysfunction. These conditions prevent sperm from reaching their destination. For whatever reason, sperm are unable to ascend up the female reproductive tract, or are simply not built to survive the journey. Simply put, IUI gives sperm cells a head start.
It is important to note that IUI does not facilitate fertilization or the events that take place at that point, such as the acrosomal reaction and the act of penetrating the egg. Thus, it may be important to determine whether the donor sperm are somehow otherwise impaired. This can be done during a semen analysis or sperm morphology examination.
Intrauterine insemination is a fairly simple procedure. The female partner is given medications to stimulate egg production, and insemination is timed to occur simultaneously with ovulation. The male partner provides a semen sample, which is submitted after two to five days of abstinence from ejaculation. The sample is washed to separate sperm from seminal fluid. Then a catheter is placed intravaginally, through the cervix and into the uterus, and sperm cells are injected directly into the uterus. This procedure takes very little time and involves very little discomfort. Moreover, the risks for complications are also minimal.
After undergoing intrauterine insemination, the couple should be on alert for signs and symptoms of pregnancy, such as a missed period, headaches, breast tenderness or mastitis, and nausea. Other symptoms include spotting, fatigue and lower back pain. These signs and symptoms may be observed within a week of conception, but they may also begin to happen a few weeks later.
The success rates for IUI has been seen to be variable, often due to factors such as the health of the man’s sperm, as well as the health of the woman trying to get pregnant. Women under age 35 can expect a higher success rates than their older counterparts.