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Artificial Insemination By Any Other Name...

A year has come and gone and the normal method of conceiving a baby has not worked. It is often at this point that a couple decides to see a fertility specialist to get help. Usually, the first type of fertility treatment attempted is intrauterine insemination-IUI. Better known as artificial insemination, the name was changed to be more inclusive since there are several different points at which insemination can be made, including the vagina, cervix and fallopian tubes as well as the uterus.

As with any medical procedure, there are things that must be done in preparation. When it comes to IUI, one of the preparations is for the sperm. In order to get the sperm ready for insemination, it has to be collected and washed. The process, though it sounds strange, is necessary to ensure only the healthiest sperm are used in the procedure, which can increase the chances of conception.

Collecting And Washing The Sperm

Since sperm counts vary in men, the frequency of ejaculation is not a concern and does not reflect upon the sperm numbers. As a result, it is not necessary for a man to abstain from intercourse prior to collection of sperm for IUI. A semen sample is collected at the clinic or doctor's office about an hour before the intrauterine insemination takes place. This time is necessary to allow the sperm to liquefy and be prepared for IUI. Part of the preparation is the washing of the sperm prior to its being placed in the woman's uterus. Washed sperm has a better chance for survival and increases the chances of fertilization.

Why The Sperm Must Be Washed Before IUI

Sperm washing is a process that separates the sperm cells from the semen in the ejaculate. Dead or slow-moving sperm are removed leaving behind strong sperm that can swim faster and are more likely to fertilize the egg. Sperm washing also removes white blood cells, mucous and seminal fluid surrounding the sperm, which can be problematic and interfere with fertilization. Medications, such as antibiotics, may affect the quality of the sperm. The reproductive endocrinologist should be advised if any medications have been taken during the week prior to IUI.

Raw (unwashed) sperm cannot be injected directly into the uterus. Semen contains prostaglandins, a hormone that causes muscular contractions-they are the hormones that cause cramps when a woman menstruates and during pregnancy. If raw semen is injected directly into the uterus without having gone through the cervix first, severe pain and cramping may result. Nausea, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea may accompany the cramping. These symptoms often begin within minutes of performing the IUI. Another devastating effect could be the collapse of the uterus, which causes very serious complications.

Those Who Especially Benefit

Anyone who pursues IUI will experience the sperm washing procedure. However, there are people who may specifically benefit from the procedure, especially those with unexplained infertility, male-factor infertility, women with endometriosis and men with antisperm antibodies.


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