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IVF Glossary of Terms

IVF terminology can be confusing, even for those of you who were biology majors! Here's a handy list for your reference.

Disclaimer: These definitions are meant for informational purposes only. If you are in doubt and need clarification, ask your doctor or nurse.

A - D          E - H          I - O          P - Z



529 Female Factor Infertility - Infertility due to ovulatory disturbances, diminished ovarian reserve, pelvic abnormalities affecting the reproductive tract, or other abnormalities of the reproductive system.


530 Multiple Factor Infertility, Female Only - A diagnostic category used when more than one female cause of infertility but no male factor infertility is diagnosed.


Abortion, Spontaneous - Pregnancy loss by any cause before 20 weeks of gestation.


Adhesions - Scar tissue that may be located in the abdominal cavity, fallopian tubes, or inside the uterus. Can interfere with the transport of the egg and implantation of the embryo in the uterus.


Amenorrhea - Lack of menstrual period for 6 months or more.


American Society For Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) - Professional society whose affiliate organization, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), is composed of clinics and programs that provide ART.


Amniocentesis - A procedure done in the second trimester of pregnancy that can detect many fetal abnormalities. It is performed by sampling a small quantity of the amniotic fluid that surrounds the fetus with a needle under ultrasound guidance.


Andrologist - A physician who performs evaluations of male fertility.


Anovulation - The failure to ovulate. This is the most common cause of female infertility. There are many different causes for the failure to ovulate, including problems with the central nervous system or pituitary gland, and abnormalities within the follicles or ovaries.


Art (Assisted Reproductive Technology) - All treatments or procedures that include the handling of human eggs or embryos to help a woman become pregnant. ART includes but is not limited to in vitro fertilization (IVF), gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT), zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT), tubal embryo transfer, egg and embryo cryopreservation, egg and embryo donation, and gestational surrogacy.


Art Cycle - An ART cycle starts when a woman begins taking fertility drugs or having her ovaries monitored for follicle production. If eggs are produced, the cycle progresses to egg retrieval. Retrieved eggs are combined with sperm to create embryos. If fertilization is successful, at least one embryo is selected for transfer. If implantation occurs, the cycle may progress to clinical pregnancy and possibly live birth. ART cycles include any process in which (1) an ART procedure is performed, (2) a woman has undergone ovarian stimulation or monitoring with the intent of having an ART procedure, or (3) frozen embryos have been thawed with the intent of transferring them to a woman.


Artificial Insemination - A technique in which semen is injected directly into a woman’s cervix or uterus during her most fertile time of the month. (See also Intrauterine Insemination)


Aspiration - Removal of fluid and cells by suction through a needle. This technique applies to many procedures in reproductive medicine.


Assisted Hatching - Assisted hatching (AH) is a procedure in which the zona pellucida (outer covering) of the embryo is partially opened, usually by application of an acid or laser. This assists the embryo in breaking out of this shell and extruding itself to implant in the endometrium.


Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) - A group of fertility therapies that employ manipulations of the oocyte (egg) and sperm in the laboratory in order to establish a pregnancy. These include IVF, ICSI, donor egg cycles, assisted hatching, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and others.


Azoospermia - Semen that contains no sperm, either because the testicles can’t make sperm or because the man’s reproductive tract is blocked.


Basal Body Temperature (Bbt) - The body temperature at rest taken in the morning before arising from bed. Successive BBT’s can be measured orally each morning and recorded on a calendar chart. These charts can be studied to help identify the time of ovulation, or even if a patient is ovulating at all. Menstrual calendar information is also an important part of a BBT chart. An ovulation predictor kit (OPK) can be used instead of daily temperature readings.


Beta Hcg Test (Bhcg) - A blood test used to detect very early pregnancies and to evaluate the development of the embryo. The test measures hCG, which is secreted by the placenta after implantation.


Blastocyst - An embryo that is about five days old and which clearly displays an inner cell mass and trophectoderm layer upon visual observation.


Blastocyst Transfer - Replacing blastocysts into the uterus.


Blighted Ovum (Egg) - Rarely-used term for an embryo that attaches itself to the uterine wall but the embryo does not develop. The amniotic sac may only contain fluid and no fetal tissue when the miscarriage occurs.


Canceled Cycle - An ART cycle in which ovarian stimulation was performed but the cycle was stopped before eggs were retrieved or, in the case of frozen embryo cycles, before embryos were transferred. Cycles are canceled for many reasons: eggs may not develop, the patient may become ill, or the patient may choose to stop treatment.


Capacitation - The process that sperm must undergo in order to fertilize an oocyte (egg).


Cervical Factor - Infertility due to a structural or hormonal abnormality of the cervix. This can be induced by previous surgery on the cervix (such as a LEEP or cone procedures) that leaves the cervical canal scarred or closed, termed stenosis. Also applied when there are factors associated with the cervix which inhibit sperm function such as thickened mucus which prevents the sperm from traveling through the cervix into the female reproductive tract. Cervical factor infertility can usually be overcome using inseminations of sperm past the cervix in to the uterus.


Cervical Mucus - The sticky, thick mucus produced by glands in the cervical canal that plugs the opening of the cervix. Most of the time this thick mucus plug prevents sperm and bacteria from entering the womb unless ovulation is about to take place. At this time, under the influence of estrogen, the mucus becomes thin, watery, and stretchy so that sperm can pass into the womb.


Cervix - The opening into the uterus.


Chemical Pregnancy - A pregnancy verified by lab tests but which results in an early miscarriage before a gestational sac is seen on an ultrasound.


Chocolate Cyst - A cyst in the ovary that is filled with blood. It is known medically as an “endometrioma.” The term chocolate cyst is used because it resembles melted chocolate. A chocolate cyst forms when endometriosis implants invade the ovary and bleed.


Cleavage - Division of one cell into 2, 2 into 4, 4 into 8, etc. This is measured in the embryology laboratory during IVF cycles.


Clinical Embryologist - A laboratory technologist who is specially trained to handle and practice micromanipulation procedures on human eggs, sperm and embryos.


Clinical Pregnancy - A pregnancy in which the beating fetal heart has been identified by ultrasound.


Clomiphene Citrate (Clomid Tm Or Serophene Tm) - An oral medication used to stimulate the ovaries and/or synchronize follicle development.


Conception - The fertilization of an egg by sperm that leads to the creation of a baby.


Congenital - Conditions present from birth, either hereditary or environmental.


Congenital Anomaly - A non-hereditary characteristic, or defect, developed before birth. These can include very minor irregularities, such as curvature of the second toe so it overlaps the third toe, or can be a more major anomaly such as a heart defect.


Corpus Luteum - A yellow- colored cyst that forms from the ovarian follicle after it releases an egg. Once formed, the cyst produces estrogen and progesterone to prepare and support the uterine lining for implantation. It also supports early pregnancies by secreting the necessary hormones until the placenta becomes fully functional between 8-10 weeks of gestation.


Cryopreservation - The process of freezing tissues or cells and then storing them in liquid nitrogen at very low temperatures. This process is used to store sperm, embryos, and unfertilized eggs. They are stored in small vials or straws that can last for decades.


Cumulus - The cloud-like collection of supportive follicle cells that surround the oocyte (egg).


Cyst - A fluid filled structure. Cysts may be found anywhere in the body, but in reproductive medicine we primarily refer to them in the ovaries. Ovarian cysts may be normal or abnormal depending on the circumstances. Often they are just follicles that have not been fully reabsorbed from previous menstrual or treatment cycles. They are very common in both natural and stimulated cycles.


Diminished Ovarian Reserve - This diagnosis means that the ability of the ovary to produce eggs is reduced. Reasons include congenital, medical, or surgical causes or advanced age.


Donor Egg Cycle - The use of donated eggs from an anonymous or known donor. These eggs are harvested via an IVF cycle performed on the donor. The resultant eggs are inseminated with sperm and then form embryos which are transferred into the womb of the intended parent.


Donor Embryo - An embryo that is donated by a patient or couple who previously underwent ART treatment and had extra embryos available.


Donor Embryo Transfer - The transfer of embryos resulting from the oocyte (egg) and sperm of another patient, who may be anonymous or known, to an otherwise infertile recipient


Donor Insemination - The introduction of sperm not from the male partner or husband into the vagina, cervix, or uterine cavity in order to achieve a pregnancy.


Donor Sperm - Semen specimens donated and used in an ART procedure.


Ductus Deferens (Vas) - A thick walled tubular structure running from each testis into the ejaculatory duct. These structures carry sperm from the testicles to the epididymis to the penis for ejaculation. The vas deferens can be scarred or damaged by surgery, trauma or infection to the point where it does not allow sperm to pass through.