Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is a minor office procedure that places sperm with a small catheter directly into a woman’s uterus when she is ovulating. A large concentration of sperm is deposited into the upper uterus so they are closer to the fallopian tubes, where they travel to fertilize an egg. This process, called insemination, uses a thin flexible tube (catheter) that is passed through vagina and cervix into the uterus. Most women experience little or no discomfort. IUI can be done with sperm from the male partner or a donor, and is often combined with ovulation induction (OI) or controlled ovarian hyperstimulation (COH).
Prior to insemination, the sperm are usually washed and concentrated (Placing unwashed sperm directly into the uterus can cause severe cramps). Concentration is accomplished by selectively choosing highly active, healthy sperm that are more capable of fertilizing an egg. Donor sperm are used if the male partner is sterile, has an extremely low sperm count, or carries a risk of genetic disease. A woman planning to conceive without a male partner can also use donor sperm.
OI uses fertility medication to develop a single follicular cyst (follicle) on the ovary for ovulation. COH is offered in ovulatory women and stimulates the ovary to produce more than the usual one follicle per month, so an increased number of eggs are exposed to sperm thereby increasing the chances for pregnancy.