What is intrauterine insemination (IUI)?

Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is a fertility treatment that can be helpful in couples experiencing the following problems:

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  • Ovulation problems in the female partner: if ovulation is irregular, it can be difficult to time sexual intercourse to coincide with the release of an egg. IUI can be used to treat ovulation problems, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
  • Male infertility due to sperm problems or antibodies to sperm: the sperm are washed and prepared before intrauterine insemination so that the fastest swimmers are chosen. Because they are placed above the cervix, this also helps sperm avoid any hostile antibodies in the woman’s cervical secretions.
  • Unexplained infertility: if there is no obvious reason why a couple are not able to conceive, intrauterine insemination is a relatively straightforward fertility treatment to try as a first option.

It is not advised if the woman’s fallopian tubes are blocked, if she has severe endometriosis or if the man’s sperm count is very low.

There are two types of intrauterine insemination, stimulated and unstimulated.

  • Unstimulated IUI involves monitoring the woman to predict ovulation and then introducing her partner’s sperm directly into her vagina about 40 hours later. No fertility drugs are given.
  • Stimulated intrauterine insemination uses the same insemination procedure, but the woman’s menstrual cycle is suppressed and she is given a fertility drug such as Clomid to stimulate the production of several eggs. The ovaries are monitored and intrauterine insemination is timed about 40 hours after up to four eggs have been released. There is a risk of a multiple pregnancy, but this method does increase the success rate of IUI.

The procedure of intrauterine insemination involves using a thin catheter (a tube) attached to a syringe containing the freshly prepared sperm. This is introduced into the vagina and through the cervix so that the sperm are deposited inside the uterus. Introduction of sperm into the cervix is also a method of artificial insemination, but is called intracervical insemination (ICI) rather than IUI. The sperm swim up inside the uterus and towards the fallopian tubes to meet the egg or eggs, as they would after normal sex.

Success rates vary, but around 10 % of couples who have intrauterine insemination become pregnant within three cycles of treatment. If the procedure does not result in pregnancy, it is possible to try stimulated IUI, but then most infertility specialists would recommend that you move on to have a cycle of in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

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