What Is the Difference Between IUI and IVF?

By BSc, MSc (embryologist), MD, FACOG, FACS, FACE (reproductive endocrinologist), MD (gynecologist) and BA, MA (fertility counselor).
Last Update: 04/19/2016

When a couple is unable to conceive naturally, they may start considering turning to alternative options to achieve pregnancy.

In the case of straight couples, they are advised to visit a fertility clinic after one year trying to conceive with no luck, or six months if the woman is above 37 years of age. Single mothers by choice or lesbian couples have no choice but to turn to assisted conception if they want to have a child.

Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) involves a wide range of fertility treatments, so it is only normal that the following doubt crosses most patient's mind when they get started: artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization?

Choosing your fertility treatment

At first, choosing one or another fertility treatment depends on the specialist, since s/he is the one who best knows the indications of each technique and can take into account the potential risks involved as well as the chances of success. Nevertheless, it is the patient who finally accepts the treatment and decides whether s/he wants to undergo it. In some cases, however, patients prefer to undergo a technique that requires less involvement of the specialist or more risks.

Ideally, patients should trust the specialist and accept his/her criteria, since the aim is to choose that technique that requires as less involvement as possible for real odds of success to be reached.

Differences between insemination and IVF

Artificial insemination is a simpler procedure: it involves the deposition of the semen inside the woman's uterine cavity. Egg fertilization takes place inside the female reproductive system as it occurs in natural conception.

In the case of IVF (in vitro fertilization), however, the eggs are previously retrieved from the woman in order to perform the fertilization in the laboratory and then transfer the embryos obtained. This technique is more complex than intrauterine insemination and requires surgery for follicular puncture, which is done under mild anesthesia.

Medications to induce ovulation and produce a greater number of eggs per cycle are used in both methods. By doing this, we increase the odds of success. Ovarian stimulation varies depending on the technique chosen. In the case of IUI, the dosage of medication is considerably lower that in IVF, since fewer follicles are needed. While for IUI the aim is to get 2 or 3 follicles to get a maximum of two mature eggs, for IVF the goal is to obtain 12 or more without it posing a problem for the patient, as each egg will be retrieved via follicular puncture.


Indications vary depending on each technique. In the case of intrauterine insemination:

  • It is advisable for women under 35-37 years of age.
  • Patients should have regular menstrual cycles or with minimal alterations.
  • Patients must present tubal patency and no evidence of severe male fertility problems.
  • As for the male partner, his semen sample must reach the minimum values, with a Motile Sperm Concentration (MSC) of at least 3 million sperm.

On the other hand, IVF is indicated in cases of more severe fertility problems are detected:

  • Ovulating is essential for IVF to be the technique of choice. However, obtaining a response from the ovary is easier in this case, since the dosage of fertility drugs administered is a greater one.
  • Having tubal patency is not a prerequisite.
  • It is indicated in cases of previous IUI failure.
  • Although there must exist a minimum sperm count, it can be carried out even if a mild-to-moderate male infertility issue is detected.


The cost of a fertility treatment might vary from clinic to clinic. However, whatever the final cost is, there is a significant difference between the cost of artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization.

The cost of artificial insemination may range from €700 to €1,500, whereas in vitro fertilization can reach €3,000 and even €4,000, as it includes surgery, egg fertilization in the laboratory and the subsequent embryo transfer. Given that the entire process requires more involvement of the specialist, it implies a higher overall cost.

Even though fertility medication are not usually included in the overall cost by default, patients are advised to add the cost of medications, as it may vary greatly. For intrauterine insemination, ovulation induction drugs may cost from €200 to €400, while in the case of in vitro fertilization it is around €700-1,000.

Odds of pregnancy

Pregnancy success rates also differ depending on the technique. While in the case of intrauterine insemination they are around 20%, with IVF almost 40% can be reached. It should be noted that these are just approximate figures, which is to say, they depend on the cause of infertility and the woman's age to a great extent.

In general, women under the age of 30 are those with the highest odds of success. With artificial insemination, the woman's age is a key factor and, as a matter of fact, many clinics do not perform IUIs on women older than 37 years of age due to the low chances of getting pregnant they present. In the case of IVF, women under 35 are those with the best prognosis.

To sum up, it should be clear that there is no better treatment than other, yet each one is more adequate than the other depending on the patient. Adapting the treatment as much as possible to the patient is crucial, given that each woman and each individual person has a different personal situation.

FAQs from users

Does artificial insemination involve the same risks as in vitro fertilization?

By Mark P. Trolice MD, FACOG, FACS, FACE (reproductive endocrinologist).

All fertility treatment cycles involving ovarian stimulating medication have similar risks but the difference is the degree of severity. For cycles using only oral or injectable fertility medications, the risks of an ectopic pregnancy, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome and ovarian torsion are less than 5% in both IUI and IVF cycles.

The difference between IUI and IVF are the pregnancy success rates and risk of multiple births. In an IUI cycle using oral medication, the risk of a multiple pregnancy is less than 5% but increase to 10-15% when injectable fertility medications are used.

The unique distinction of IVF is the ultrasound guided vaginal egg retrieval and the ability to transfer a predetermined number of embryos. As a result, the risks with an egg retrieval included intra-abdominal bleeding, injury to the bowel and bladder, and infection. Fortunately, all of complications occur in less than 1% of cycles. Further, the risk of a multiple pregnancy is directly related to the number of embryos transferred: a single embryo transfer has a 1% risk of dividing into a twin pregnancy; a double embryo transfer can increase the risk of a twin pregnancy in up to 40% of cycles.

How many IUI cycles should you do before moving on to IVF?

By Óscar Oviedo Moreno MD (gynecologist).

In couples with a good prognosis, that is, under the age of 37, with a normal sperm sample, we recommend 4 IUI attempts before moving on to IVF. In the case of single women or donor insemination cycles, up to 6 attempts are recommended. It depends on the clinical history of each patient, though.

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Authors and contributors

 Cristina Mestre Ferrer
Cristina Mestre Ferrer
BSc, MSc
Bachelor's Degree in Biological Sciences, Genetics & Human Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV). Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the UV and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Embryologist at IVI Barcelona. More information about Cristina Mestre Ferrer
 Mark P. Trolice
Mark P. Trolice
Reproductive Endocrinologist
Mark P. Trolice is the Director of Fertility CARE – The IVF Center and Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology (OB/GYN) at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine. He is Board-certified in REI and OB/GYN, and maintains annual recertification. His colleagues select him as Top Doctor in America® annually, one among the top 5% of doctors in the U.S. More information about Mark P. Trolice
License: ME 78893
 Óscar Oviedo Moreno
Óscar Oviedo Moreno
Bachelor's Degree in Medicine & Surgery from the University of Caldas (Colombia). Specialist in Internal Medicine by the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana of Bogotá. Degree standardized in Spain in 2003. Specialist in Gynecology & Obstetrics from the Complutense University of Madrid, with residence at Hospital Clínico Universitario San Carlos de Madrid. Expert in Reproductive Medicine and Certification in Obstetric-Gynecologic Ultrasound (levels I, II and III). More information about Óscar Oviedo Moreno
License: 282858310
Adapted into english by:
 Sandra Fernández
Sandra Fernández
Fertility Counselor
Bachelor of Arts in Translation and Interpreting (English, Spanish, Catalan, German) from the University of Valencia (UV) and Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton Campus (Edinburgh, UK). Postgraduate Course in Legal Translation from the University of Valencia. Specialist in Medical Translation, with several years of experience in the field of Assisted Reproduction. More information about Sandra Fernández

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