In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is just one of several techniques available to help couples with fertility problems to get pregnant.
IVF involves surgically removing an egg from the woman's ovaries and fertilising it with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilized egg, or embryo, is then placed back into the woman's womb to grow and develop into a baby.
Chances of success
Each year almost 30,000 couples undergo IVF, a quarter of which are successful, with a 28% average chance of getting pregnant with each treatment.
Success rates decline sharply with age. For every 100 women treated aged 35 and below, 20 will get pregnant; between 36 and 38 around 15 will get pregnant; and at age 39 around 10 will get pregnant. This is because younger women tend to have healthier eggs. The rate of live births has risen from 14% in 1991 to 30% in 2010.
According to the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority, which monitors fertility clinics and their outcomes, one in every 80 babies born in the UK is conceived using IVF.
In the UK
In Britain alone, 111,633 children have been born through fertility treatment; worldwide, the figure is estimated to be 3.5 million. The latest figures show that 39,879 couples in Britain had IVF in 2008, leading to a total of 15,082 children.
About 25% of IVF treatments are funded by the NHS; the rest are paid for privately, costing up to £8,000 a cycle.
What is offered by the NHS
In 2004, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) said women between 23 and 39 should be given up to three cycles on the NHS.
However, these guidelines have still not been fully implemented. Some primary care trusts offer only one free cycle, but availability varies across the UK.
You may only be considered for infertility investigations and treatment after you have been trying for a baby for at least a year without becoming pregnant. Your GP will be able to refer you (and your partner, if you have one) to an infertility specialist at an NHS hospital or fertility clinic.
IVF treatment is easily available from many private IVF clinics across the UK and London is the centre for IVF research with Harley Street IVF clinics ranking amongst the top in the country.
When comparing private IVF clinic costs it is strongly advised to read all the small print; do not be overly influenced by the cheapest advertised prices but find out the cost of the aftercare package if it has not been included in the price.
The cost of IVF treatment in the UK can range between £4000 and £8000 per IVF treatment cycle including consultations and prescription charges. The IVF treatment cost will depend on whether such procedures as ICSI are needed.
The price will also be influenced by how many cycles a patient requires and also what types of drugs are administered. There will also be a chargeable option for the couple to freeze their embryos for later use.
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