Almost 90 per cent of couples trying to have a baby through IVF greatly overestimate their chances of success 

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  • Study is ‘a reminder’ for clinics to set realistic success estimates for IVF couples 
  • 85 per cent of women and 88 per cent of men overestimate chances of success
  • Over-optimism may be a source of distress or a reason to discontinue treatment
  • IVF patients have high expectations due to the media, the internet and clinics 

The new study is 'a reminder' for clinics to set realistic success estimates for IVF couples undergoing treatment

The new study is ‘a reminder’ for clinics to set realistic success estimates for IVF couples undergoing treatment

During in vitro fertilisation (IVF), an egg is removed from the woman's ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. Private clinics typically refuse to treat women aged 45 and over, while NHS clinical commissioning groups do not generally allow a second round of IVF after women turn 40

During in vitro fertilisation (IVF), an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. Private clinics typically refuse to treat women aged 45 and over, while NHS clinical commissioning groups do not generally allow a second round of IVF after women turn 40

Over-optimism may be a source of distress or even a reason to discontinue their IVF treatment

Over-optimism may be a source of distress or even a reason to discontinue their IVF treatment

Almost 90 per cent of couples trying to have a baby through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) overestimate their chances of conceiving, a new study reveals.  

Researchers found 85 per cent of women and 88 per cent of men undergoing their second course of IVF overestimated their chances of success. 

Official statistics state that only 30 per cent of IVF treatments result in a successful pregnancy, with live birth rates a little lower. 

Scientists say many couples believe the average success rate does not apply to them and that they will be more successful than other people. 

Researchers caution that over-optimism may be a source of distress to many hopefuls, potentially resulting in the discontinuation of the IVF treatment.

Inflated expectations stem from reports of success stories in the media and on social media, researchers say.   

Embryologist Johanna Devroe, from the University Hospital of Leuven, Belgium, said: ‘Clinics do share average success rates on their websites but these are often only relevant to a reference population of younger patients and many patients do not think that average success rates apply to them.

‘They expect greater success, thinking of their healthy lifestyle or their experienced doctors. 

‘So the message to clinics is, work on setting realistic expectations. 

‘We are now investigating this, to see if disclosing an individual’s predicted success rate rather than a clinic’s average success rate helps to set realistic expectations.’ 

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a technique to help people with fertility problems have a baby. 

It is the process of sperm fertilising an egg outside the body.

During IVF, an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory.

The fertilised egg, called an embryo, is then returned to the woman’s womb to grow and develop.

It can be carried out using your eggs and your partner’s sperm, or eggs and sperm from donors.

Source: NHS 

During IVF, an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory.  

Previous reports have suggested that couples usually have some degree of optimism when embarking on IVF treatment. 

This is despite a success rate ranging from 29 per cent for women under 35 and just 2 per cent for women aged 40 to 42, according to the NHS. 

Private clinics typically refuse to treat women aged 45 and over, while NHS clinical commissioning groups do not generally allow women a second round of IVF after they turn 40.   

The scientists at the University Hospital of Leuven, who led the recent study, conducted a prospective study of 69 couples having at least their second IVF treatment attempt. 

The team measured a couple’s individual expectations about their treatment and their natural disposition to optimism through a questionnaire. 

In addition, the study used a mathematical model to calculate each couple’s realistic chances of the IVF being successful.  

This allowed the study to calculate the degrees of what they called ‘mis-estimation’ for both the male and female partner of each couple. 

The mathematical prediction stated that only around 32 per cent of the participants would be successful.  

However, the vast majority of women (85 per cent) gave themselves a better chance than this figure. 

On average, female partners estimated a 66 per cent chance of success, an overestimate of 34 per cent. 

Men were even more prone to overestimating their chances of success. 

Eighty-eight per cent of men in the study overestimated their outcomes.

More than half of men (54 per cent) thought the odds of their success was more twice the actual figure.  

The study, the researchers say, is a reminder for treatment clinics and the media to set realistic estimates of positive outcomes for both female and male partners. 

‘We are currently following up the couples from our study group to correlate levels of unrealistic expectations with levels of disappointment and uptake of another IVF cycle,’ said Dr Devroe.     

‘To the best of our knowledge, the live birth rates expected by patients during their IVF cycle have yet to be studied and compared to their individual prognosis. 

It is not known whether the expected birth rates, as revealed in this study, are affected by factors like gender and an individual’s general level of optimism, Devroe said. 

The results of the study was being presented today by Devroe at the 36th Annual Meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. 

In-vitro fertilisation, known as IVF, is a medical procedure in which a woman has an already-fertilised egg inserted into her womb to become pregnant.

It is used when couples are unable to conceive naturally, and a sperm and egg are removed from their bodies and combined in a laboratory before the embryo is inserted into the woman.

Once the embryo is in the womb, the pregnancy should continue as normal.

The procedure can be done using eggs and sperm from a couple or those from donors. 

Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that IVF should be offered on the NHS to women under 43 who have been trying to conceive through regular unprotected sex for two years.

People can also pay for IVF privately, which costs an average of £3,348 for a single cycle, according to figures published in January 2018, and there is no guarantee of success.

The NHS says success rates for women under 35 are about 29 per cent, with the chance of a successful cycle reducing as they age.

Around eight million babies are thought to have been born due to IVF since the first ever case, British woman Louise Brown, was born in 1978.

Chances of success

The success rate of IVF depends on the age of the woman undergoing treatment, as well as the cause of the infertility (if it’s known).

Younger women are more likely to have a successful pregnancy. 

IVF isn’t usually recommended for women over the age of 42 because the chances of a successful pregnancy are thought to be too low.

Between 2014 and 2016 the percentage of IVF treatments that resulted in a live birth was:

29 per cent for women under 35

23 per cent for women aged 35 to 37

15 per cent for women aged 38 to 39

9 per cent for women aged 40 to 42

3 per cent for women aged 43 to 44

2 per cent for women aged over 44










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