Infertility Terminology

  • Abortion (threatened): symptoms such as vaginal bleeding which may end pregnancy.
  • Abortion (habitual/recurrent: also ‘spontaneous miscarriage’): a pattern of three consecutive, spontaneous miscarriages.
  • Adhesions: abnormal attachment of scar tissues, usually inside the peritoneal cavity, which may interfere with normal fertilization.  Often caused by surgery or infection.
  • Amenorrhea: the absence of menstruation.
  • Anovulation: total absence of ovulation.
  • Anovulatory bleeding: the type of menstruation associated with failure to ovulate. May be scanty and short or heavy with an irregular pattern.
  • Anti-sperm antibodies: a protective protein that exists naturally which may cause agglutination of sperm, thus preventing or inhibiting fertilization of the egg.
  • Artificial insemination by donor: The instillation of donor’s sperm into a woman’s uterus for the purpose of conception (Intrauterine Insemination – IUI).
  • Artificial insemination by male partner: The instillation of a male partner’s sperm into the female partner’s uterus for the purpose of conception (Intrauterine Insemination – IUI).
  • Assisted Hatching: The artificial opening of the zona pellucida, the layer surrounding the egg and embryo, before embryo transfer. This procedure is associated with increased implantation in certain patients and in some embryos.
  • Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART): Techniques and procedures involving the handling of sperm and eggs in the laboratory to help infertile couples achieve pregnancy. The best known ART procedure is IVF.
  • Azoospermia: The absence of spermatozoa in the ejaculate of the male. This does not necessarily indicate the absence of sperm production.
  • Blastocyst: This is the last stage of the free-living or preimplantation embryo. It usually is seen in the laboratory five to six days after egg retrieval. The blastocyst consists of approximately 75-150 cells. It is the first time that the embryo possesses three distinctly different areas, (I) an inner cell mass (ICM), which subsequently forms the fetus, (II) an outer layer of cells, or trophectoderm, which later forms the placenta and (III) a fluid-filled cavity known as the blastocoele.
  • Body Mass Index (BMI): Body mass index is a calculation of the percentage of body fat on an individual. The measure of someone’s weight in relation to height; to calculate one’s BMI, multiply one’s weight in pounds and divide that by the square of one’s height in inches; overweight is a BMI greater than 25; obese is a BMI greater than 30.
  • Chromosomes: An organized structure of DNA and protein that is found in cells. It is a single piece of coiled DNA containing most of the genes (part of the DNA that contains the genetic instruction).
  • Corpus luteum:The special gland that forms in the ovary at the site of released egg. This gland produces the hormone progesterone during the second half of a normal menstrual cycle.
  • Cryopreservation: The process of freezing and storage in very cold liquid nitrogen of gametes and embryos. The frozen stage is generally achieved by relatively slow cooling using a cryoprotectant – special “anti-freeze.” Very rapid cooling can be achieved by vitrification.
  • Dysmenorrhea: Painful menstruation.
  • Dyspaerunia: Painful intercourse for either the woman or the man.
  • Ectopic pregnancy: A pregnancy in which the fertilized egg implants anywhere but in the uterine cavity (usually the fallopian tube, the ovary or the abdominal cavity).
  • Ejaculation: The release of spermatozoa from the male reproductive glands during which approximately two to six milliliters of semen are ejected from the penis.
  • Embryo: The term is generally used in medicine to describe the early stages of fetal growth, from conception to the eighth week of pregnancy. In ART, the term ‘embryo’ refers to the stages when the fertilized egg and pre-embryo are freely living in the reproductive tract before implantation as a blastocyst in the uterus. Some ART practitioners use the term ‘pre-embryo’ to designate the latter. At the time of implantation, the embryo is called a blastocyst.
  • Embryo biopsy: The removal of one or more cells from the embryo on the third day of development to test for genetic disease or chromosomal abnormalities. Biopsy can also be performed on eggs (before and after fertilization) or at the blastocyst stage.
  • Embryo transfer: Introduction of an embryo into a woman’s uterus after in vitro fertilization.
  • Endometrium: The membrane lining the uterus.
  • Endometrial biopsy: The extraction of a small sample of tissue from the uterus for examination. Usually done to show evidence of ovulation or to diagnose endometrial hyperplasia.
  • Endometriosis: The presence of endometrial tissue (the normal uterine lining) in abnormal locations such as the fallopian tubes, ovaries and peritoneal cavity, often causing painful menstruation and infertility.
  • Estradiol (E2): A hormone released by the developing follicles in the ovary. Plasma estradiol levels are used to help determine progressive growth of the follicle during ovulation induction.
  • Fallopian tubes: A pair of narrow tubes that carry the ovum (egg) from the ovary to the body of the uterus.
  • Fibroid tumor (Leiomyoma): A benign tumor of fibrous tissue that may occur in the uterine wall. May be totally without symptoms or may cause abnormal menstrual patterns or infertility.
  • Fimbria: The fringed and flaring outer ends of the fallopian tubes, which capture the egg after it is released from the ovary.
  • Follicle:The structure in the ovary that has nurtured the ripening egg and from which the egg is released.
  • Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH): A hormone produced in the anterior pituitary that stimulates the ovary to ripen a follicle for ovulation.
  • Follicular phase: The first half of the menstrual cycle when ovarian follicle development takes place.
  • Gamete:Reproductive cells containing half the genetic material. There are two types: spermatozoa (derived from men) and eggs (derived from women).
  • Gonadotropin: A hormone capable of stimulating the testicles or the ovaries to produce sperm or an egg, respectively.
  • Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG): A hormone secreted by the placenta and extracted from the urine of pregnant females. hCG stimulates the ovarian secretion of estrogen and progesterone and maintains the corpus luteum. Detection of this hormone in urine or serum is an easy first method of diagnosis of pregnancy. This hormone accounts for pregnancy tests being positive. It may be administered therapeutically to males who have undescended testes and as an aid to trigger ovulation in women.
  • Human menopausal gonadotropin (hMG): An injectable medication obtained from the urine of postmenopausal women. It is used in the treatment of both male and female infertility and to stimulate the development of multiple follicles in women undergoing IVF treatment.
  • Hysterosalpingogram (HSG): An x-ray study in which a contrast dye is injected into the uterus to show the delineation of the body of the uterus and the patency of the fallopian tubes.
  • ICSI: Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection, during which a single spermatozoa is microsurgically injected into an egg by an embryologist.
  • Idiopathic (unexplained) infertility: When no reason can be found to explain the cause of a couple’s infertility.
  • Implantation: The embedding of the embryo in the endometrium of the uterus.
  • Implantation rate: This is one of the measures of success of ART. The rate is usually expressed for maternal age groups and indicates the chances of one embryo implanting in the uterus.
  • Incubator: The warming chamber apparatus used to store Petri dishes containing culture fluid in which gametes and embryos are kept at body temperature under optimized conditions.
  • Infertility: The inability of a couple to achieve a pregnancy after one year of regular unprotected sexual intercourse or the inability of the woman to carry a pregnancy to live birth.
  • Inner Cell Mass (ICM): The mass of cells inside the blastocyst that will eventually give rise to the fetus.
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF): A procedure in which an egg is removed from a ripe follicle and fertilized by a sperm cell outside the human body. The fertilized egg, pre-embryo or embryo is allowed to divide in a protected environment for 2-5 days and then is inserted back into the uterus of the woman who produced the egg. Also called “test tube baby” and “test tube fertilization”.
  • Laparoscopy: The direct visualization of the ovaries and the exterior of the fallopian tubes and uterus by means of inserting a surgical instrument through a small incision below the naval.
  • Luteal phase: The days of the menstrual cycle following ovulation and ending the menses during which progesterone is produced.
  • Luteinizing hormone (LH): A hormone secreted by the anterior lobe of the pituitary throughout the menstrual cycle. Secretion of LH increases in the middle of the cycle to induce the release of the egg.
  • Microsurgical Epididymal Sperm Aspiration (MESA): Microsurgical Epididymal Sperm Aspiration, which is used to surgically remove sperm from the epididymis, the small organ along the testicle in which spermatozoa are stored. The procedure may be necessary in azoospermic men when spermatozoa are not found in the ejaculate.
  • Micromanipulation: The surgical process used by embryologists, to add, remove or change cells or cell structures. At the ART Institute of Washington, this process is used for ICSI, assisted hatching and PGD.
  • Oligo-ovulation: Infrequent ovulation, usually less than six ovulation cycles per year.
  • Oligospermia: Abnormally low numbers of sperm in the ejaculate of the male.
  • Oocyte: The egg.
  • Oocyte retrieval (or Egg Collection): A surgical procedure, usually under deep sedation anesthesia, to collect the eggs contained within the ovarian follicles. A needle is inserted into the follicle and its fluid and egg are aspirated and then placed in a Petri dish containing culture fluid in the laboratory.
  • Ovarian failure: The inability of the ovary to respond to gonadotropic stimulation, usually due to the absence of eggs.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease: Inflammation of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and/or ovaries and its progression to scar formation with adhesions to nearby tissues and organs. OInflammatory disease of the pelvis, often caused by bacterial infection.
  • Petri Dish:The round sterile dish used for culture of culture fluid in which gametes and embryos are kept usually under a layer of transparent mineral oil. One variant of the Petri Dish is the GPS dish used at The Art Institute of Washington and specially made for IVF procedures.
  • Preimplantation: The period of embryo development between the zygote and the blastocyst stage. The stage before implantation of the blastocyst into the uterus.
  • Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD): A group of testing procedures, which are aimed at determining whether an embryo is affected by genetic disease. A variation, called Preimplantation Genetic Screening (PGS) is used to determine whether chromosomal abnormalities are present.
  • Progesterone: A hormone secreted by the corpus luteum of the ovary after ovulation has occurred. Also produced by the placenta during pregnancy.
  • Secondary infertility: The inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy after having successfully conceived and carried one or more pregnancies.
  • Semen: The sperm and seminal secretions ejaculated during a male’s orgasm.
  • Semen analysis: The study of fresh ejaculated under the microscope to count the number of million sperm per milliliter (density), check the shape and size of the sperm (morphology) and note their ability to move (motility).
  • Sperm: The male reproductive cell that has measurable characteristics such as motility, morphology, density and viability (whether the sperm is alive or dead).
  • TESA: Testicular Sperm Aspiration, which is a procedure used to surgically remove spermatozoa from the testicle. The procedure may be necessary in azoospermic men when spermatozoa are not found in the ejaculate.
  • Testicle: The male sexual glands of which there are two. Contained in the scrotum, they produce the male hormone testosterone and produce the male reproductive cells, the sperm.
  • Trophectoderm: The trophectoderm consists of a single layer of cells surrounding a cavity in the blastocyst, which provides nutrients to the inner cell mass cells and forms a major part of the placenta.
  • Tuboplasty: The surgical repair of fallopian tubes.
  • Uterus: The hollow, muscular organ in the woman that holds and nourishes the fetus until the time of birth.
  • Vagina: The birth canal opening in the woman extending from the vulva to the cervix of the uterus.
  • Vitrification: A procedure involving rapidly cooling cells or embryos to sub-zero temperatures in order to preserve them. Vitrification changes water and fluids in the cells into a glass-like state while avoiding the formation of ice that can damage the cell.
  • Zygote:The earliest stage of fertilization after sperm penetration of the egg, when the male and female chromosomes are separated in special nuclei called pronuclei.
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