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Intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are two of the most popular fertility treatments available. They’re both used for the same purpose—to increase chances of becoming pregnant and carrying a healthy baby to term.

What is IUI?

IUI, also referred to as artificial insemination, is a process in which sperm is implanted directly into a woman’s uterus using a catheter. This can be done with partner or donor sperm. Fertility medications, which stimulate ovulation, are often used in conjunction with IUI. The direct delivery of high quality sperm to the uterus increases the chances of sperm fertilizing an egg and resulting in pregnancy.

Who is a good candidate for IUI?

IUI aids sperms in its long journey to fertilize an egg, which can overcome fertility issues in both men and woman. A couple may find success with IUI if:

  • The woman has an ovulation disorder and has not been able to get pregnant with ovulation-inducing fertility drugs alone.
  • The woman has infertility due to issues with the cervix, such as scarring, or issues with the cervical mucus.
  • The woman has mild endometriosis.
  • The man has a low sperm count, low sperm motility, or abnormally shaped sperm.
  • The man has problems ejaculating
  • The man has frozen sperm to maintain fertility following cancer treat, surgery or another fertility-threatening issue.
  • The couple is using donor sperm.
  • The couple has unexplained infertility.

Women who have at least one fallopian tube, suitable egg quality and are able to ovulate (with the help of medication if needed) are good candidates for IUI. Men must have adequate semen makeup (count, motility and shape) for their sperm to be viable.

What is IVF?

IVF is the most successful, and most expensive, fertility treatment on the market today. As with IUI, the IVF procedure will likely include the use of fertility medications to stimulate normal ovulation. That’s roughly where the similarities end. During IVF, eggs and sperm are harvested (sometimes from donors) and used to create embryos in a lab. The embryos are then tested for viability (if desired by the couple) and implanted into the mother-to-be or a surrogate.

What are PGS and PGD?

The option to have preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) and/or preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is a key differentiator between IUI and IVF. These tests, which are an optional part of IVF, screen for abnormalities in embryos so that couples can choose to implant viable embryos and reduce risk things like miscarriage and carrying an unhealthy baby to term.

PGS screens the number of chromosomes in an embryo. Too many can indicate disorders such as Down syndrome. PGD screens for things like gender (used by families looking for gender balance) as well as genetic disorders and changes in DNA. PGD helps identify disorders such as sickle cell anemia or Cystic fibrosis. Both screenings help increase the success rate of an IVF cycle by identifying the healthiest embryos for implantation.

Who is a good candidate for IVF?

IVF is the most comprehensive procedure available for getting pregnant. A couple may be good candidates for IVF if:

  • The woman has blocked fallopian tubes
  • The woman has severe endometriosis
  • IUI has failed
  • The man’s sperm quality is very poor
  • The man has had a vasectomy
  • Other fertility treatments did not work

What is the cost of IUI vs IVF?

IUI is significantly more affordable than IVF. Because the cost savings are so extreme, many couples opt for IUI as a first line of treatment for infertility. If it’s unsuccessful, couples may pursue IVF to increase their chances of conceiving.

IUI costs between roughly $300 and $2,000 per cycle. While that range may seem wide, it’s important to note the many factors, such as where you live, the fertility clinic you choose and what components of treatment (e.g. fertility drugs, blood testing) are recommended to you for a successful cycle.

One cycle of IVF can cost upwards of $15,000 or more. Again, this depends on many things, including those listed above and insurance coverage, genetic screening options, etc.

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What are the success rates of IUI vs IVF?

As with all fertility treatment options, success rates depend on many factors. Age is one of the biggest factors in the success of both IUI and IVF. Other things like what fertility issue(s) a couple are experiencing also have a great influence on the success of either option.

Couples are typically advised to move away from IUI after three to five failed cycles. For women ages 41 to 42, the success rate of IUI is about 13%. For those under 35, it’s roughly 19%. IUI performed with fresh, highly viable sperm can carry success rates of up to 20%. For woman ages 40 to 44, the IVF success rate is 13–18%. For woman under 35%, it jumps to 40–43%.