Intrauterine insemination is the process by which washed sperm is deposited into a woman’s uterus through artificial means, to facilitate fertilization of her egg. The goal of IUI is to increase the number of sperm that reach the Fallopian tubes, therefore increasing the chance of fertilization, and of achieving a pregnancy. IUI is considered a less invasive and less costly alternative to in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Normally two inseminations are done at the same time, in order to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy. Often fertility drugs are used, to increase the number of eggs available to be fertilized. The woman’s cycle will be carefully monitored via ultrasound to measure follicular growth, and when the optimal size is achieved, hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) will be administered to stimulate the release of eggs from the follicles. A catheter will then be used to inject prepared sperm directly into the uterus at the same time. Overall success rates are from 6% to 30%, with 6% from natural IUI, and up to 30% for IUI using fertility drugs. The optimal candidates for IUI present the following characteristics:
- Women who are under the age of 40
- Women without blocked Fallopian tubes
- Men who have mild sperm motility, count and morphology issues
- Women requiring sperm donation
- Women with cervical mucus that is too thick
- Men with sexual or erectile dysfunctions
Chinese medicine and IUI
Chinese medicine can greatly improve success rates for both natural IUI and IUI performed with the aid of fertility medications. For optimal results with IUI, a minimum of eight acupuncture treatments should be performed prior to the IUI, and should begin one to three months before the procedure, depending on individual patient needs.
Acupuncture is able to increase implantation and ongoing pregnancy rates when used in conjunction with IUI. Research shows improved blood flow to the reproductive system through the uterine arteries after acupuncture treatments, which may over time enhance egg quality and thickness of the endometrium (uterine lining), as well as reduce the chance of miscarriage post-IUI. Other benefits of acupuncture when used with IUI include hormonal regulation, immune system balance, reduced stress and cortisol levels, reduced side effects of medications, better response to medications, and decreased contraction of the uterus post-IUI.
Herbal formulas are prescribed to help enhance egg quality and sperm parameters, and to improve implantation rates and prevent miscarriage post-IUI. They are also helpful when used prior to IUI to control many of the underlying causes of infertility, including endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), fibroids, high follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), poor egg quality, blocked Fallopian tubes, and immune system imbalance. Much research has been done on the effect of herbs on these individual disorders.
Massage and physical therapy, when performed prior to IUI, can be used to correct structural imbalances caused by fibroids, endometriosis, blocked Fallopian tubes, scar tissue from prior surgeries, and adhesions restricting function and mobility of the reproductive organs, caused by trauma or injury. Reproductive organ massage is also effective in improving blood flow to the reproductive system. In a 2004 peer-reviewed study, manual physical therapy was shown to improve pregnancy rates in infertile women.
Nutritional and dietary therapy improve pregnancy rates, and can be used by both male and female partners to enhance fertility. Numerous research articles have shown that use of nutritional supplements prior to and during pregnancy improves the health of both mother and baby. Certain foods and supplements regulate hormone balance, and contain factors beneficial to egg and sperm health and development; they are prescribed according to the needs of the individual patient.
Mind-body techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and qigong exercises, are often useful for patients struggling with infertility, because they reduce stress and cortisol levels, and allow the body to prioritize reproduction.
Therapy and support groups can be helpful to deal with the psychological stress and feeling of isolation experienced by many patients undergoing fertility treatment. A 2000 Harvard Medical School study showed higher pregnancy rates in patients attending support groups and receiving cognitive behavioral therapy.