Embryo grading is an important component of the IVF procedure, also referred to as in vitro fertilization. IVF is designed to assist couples who have a difficult time becoming pregnant. It involves the removal of several eggs from the woman's body so that they can be fertilized by the man's sperm in a controlled laboratory environment. The eggs are then watched to determine whether fertilization has taken place, and the most viable of them are then returned to the woman's uterus so that they can hopefully attach and continue to develop.
Embryo grading is crucial because it is the process of determining which of the eggs are the most viable and the best to try to return to the woman's body.
How Embryo Grading Works
Embryo grading is a carefully measured science. The eggs are typically fertilized or unsuccessful after around 24 hours from the time they have been mixed with the sperm. A fertility doctor will watch over them during this time for signs that fertilization has taken place. Over the next 3 to 4 days, the fertilized eggs begin to split into different cell groups and to develop. Each day or so, the embryologist monitors each egg closely under the microscope for signs of the quality of the egg.
The signs that a fertility doctor is watching for include the fragmentation of the embryo (that is, the degree to which cells have split off in unusual ways; a low fragmentation level is ideal), the strength and size of the zona pellicuda, the protein shell that helps to encase and protect the embryo, the successfully division of the embryo cells and more. Grading is done on a number scale, and a grade is assigned each day.
When the embryo has formed into a blastocyst and is ready for transplant, the doctor will then use the embryo grades to determine which embryos are best suited for transplant. These are the embryos that are determined to be the most likely to succeed in the womb.
Risks and Complications of Embryo Grading
Any extra or unnecessary tampering with the embryos after fertilization is a risk. The embryo itself is one of the most fragile items that doctors ever come into contact with, especially during the first few days of growth. The act of moving the embryos and monitoring them under a microscope can oftentimes be enough to cause complications as dangerous as the death of the embryo.
Additionally, embryo grading is by no means always correct. If a doctor chooses to transplant certain embryos as a result of embryo grading, there is an increased likelihood that one of those embryos will succeed. However, it's not a firm guarantee. The more embryos that are implanted, the overall higher likelihood that the procedure will result in an active pregnancy.
If you think that IVF or embryo grading may be the procedure for you, speak with a fertility doctor.