In July 1978, Louise Brown was born in England; she was the first baby born who had been conceived via IVF. Though the fertilization process, led by Sir Robert Edwards and Dr. Patrick Steptoe, took place in a petri dish before being implanted into Louise’s mother’s uterus, Louise was commonly referred to as the first “test tube baby.”
In the forty-plus years since, the use of IVF has increased dramatically—and the technology has evolved along with it. Today, approximately 1-2% of all U.S. births annually are via IVF.
By enabling women with fertility issues or genetic problems to become pregnant, IVF has changed the lives of millions. In 2010, Sir Robert Edwards was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his role in developing the procedure. But as groundbreaking as IVF is, it’s well known to be an arduous and taxing process for women—physically, emotionally and financially. As a result, there is considerable incentive to achieve pregnancy in as few rounds of IVF as possible. While many people may not associate IVF with anesthesia, it can play a critical role in minimizing pain and optimizing success in IVF.
IVF begins with taking a medication that stimulates follicles in the ovaries to produce eggs. Once the eggs are produced and mature, they are retrieved via surgery. During the egg retrieval, a doctor will typically use an ultrasound to locate the follicles and eggs, and then carefully extract the eggs using a thin, hollow needle and a suction device.
For years, anesthesia was not used in the egg retrieval process. Though the egg retrieval is fairly quick—typically taking between 20-30 minutes—at best, it’s uncomfortable. At worst, it’s extremely painful.
Today, most doctors use some sort of sedation during the procedure, including regional anesthesia, “conscious sedation,” in which the patient is awake and can respond to commands, and general anesthesia, in which the patient is asleep. At Allied, we work with multiple IVF clinics to provide anesthesia during the egg retrieval process. Propofol is our anesthetic of choice for IVF procedures for a few reasons:
- Patients are completely asleep and feel no pain during the procedure, enabling the doctor to carefully extract as many eggs as possible.
- Patients can easily wake from the procedure quickly and experience minimal side effects (unlike the fatigue, nausea and other side effects common with other sedatives).
- When administered by an expert, propofol does not require intubation.
While we highly recommend incorporating a skilled anesthesiologist into the egg retrieval process, we strongly encourage women undergoing egg retrieval to have a conversation with their doctor about how best to minimize discomfort and optimize results.