My wife and I are currently going through IVF and we’ve been reading about the use of ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection). I have not been diagnosed with any particular problem, and our infertility is classified as “unexplained”. Should we use ICSI?
ICSI follows the same process as IVF (in-vitro fertilisation), except ICSI involves the direct injection of a single sperm into each egg to achieve fertilisation.
ICSI is usually the preferred treatment for couples with confirmed male infertility, such as low sperm numbers, low sperm motility, abnormal sperm shape, blockages, and less common conditions, such as sperm antibodies. ICSI can also be used for couples with unexplained failure in previous IVF cycles.
Around one in 7 couples that require artificial reproductive treatment (ART) have "unexplained" infertility and doctors often first use approaches like ensuring the female partner's ovulation occurs at the same time as natural sex or artificial insemination/intrauterine insemination (IUI). They may then recommend IVF where thousands of the male partner's best sperm are purified and incubated with the egg — this is the preferred initial ART procedure in cases of "unexplained" infertility.
While ICSI is a more invasive procedure, some have suggested it may help by reducing the risk of failed fertilisation. However, it's emerging that IVF is probably the preferred treatment, at least in the first cycle, in "unexplained" infertility. IVF allows for healthy competition between sperm, is less expensive, avoids trauma to the egg and may produce more embryos, with better pregnancy and live birth rates
ICSI is not the first stepping stone in ART for "unexplained" infertility, however it's important to ‘keep it up ones sleeve’, in case there's a need for it after trying the other approaches mentioned above.
Want to learn more about assisted reproductive treatments? The VARTA website explains everything you need to know about treatment options and more. For more information on male infertility, check out the information on our website or browse through our resource library for fact sheets, information guides and videos.
Answered by: Prof Rob McLachlan AM FRACHP PhD
Prof Rob McLachlan is the Medical Director of Healthy Male. He specialises in the area of male reproductive medicine and has made significant contributions to research in endocrinology, infertility and andrology.
In 2016, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for services to medicine in the field of endocrinology, particularly in men’s reproductive health, and to medical research.
He is also an NHMRC Principal Research Fellow at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Deputy Director of Endocrinology at the Monash Medical Centre, and consultant to the World Health Organisation on male infertility regulation.