Glossary of Terms

The glossary below is compiled from a number of sources, primarily the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and is intended to help you to understand some of the techniques, conditions, drugs, procedures and terms you may come across during your infertility treatment.

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American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) — An organization devoted to advancing knowledge and expertise in reproductive medicine and biology. Its affiliate organization, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), reports annual fertility clinic data to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Anejaculation — A condition in which no semen is expelled from the penis during sexual arousal

Anorexia Nervosa — An eating disorder (see ‘Bulimia’) associated with a distorted body image. Inadequate calorie intake results in severe weight loss

Assisted Reproductive Techniques (ART) — Procedures in which pregnancy is attempted through gamete manipulation outside of the body, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) or assisted hatching (ICSI or PGD)

Azospermia — A cause of male infertility in which no sperm are present in the semen


Biological Father — The man whose sperm fertilized the ovum from which a child developed and who is therefore genetically related to that child

Biological Mother — The woman from whose ovum a child developed and who is therefore genetically related to that child

Bulimia — An eating disorder (see ‘Anorexia Nervosa’) characterized by uncontrolled episodes of overeating usually followed by self-induced vomiting


Cervix — The lower, narrow end, or neck, of the uterus, which opens into the vagina

Chlamydia — A sexually transmitted infection caused by the microorganism chlamydia trachomatis, which, if left untreated in a woman, may cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), pelvic adhesions, and tubal blockage

Cryopreservation — A special freezing technique used to preserve embryos, oocytes, ovarian tissue or sperm for future use in an ART procedure

Cryopreserved Embryo — Referred to as frozen embryos

Cryptorchidism — A cause of male infertility in which one or both testes have not descended into the scrotum after the first year of life

Cycle —

Cycle Day – First day of full flow (before 4:00 p.m.)

Menstrual Cycle- Period of time from the onset of one menses until the next

Ovulation Induction – Use of medications to stimulate ovaries and produce the release of eggs


Dilation and Curettage (D&C) — A procedure in which the cervix is gradually widened and the lining of the uterus is gently removed by scraping or suction

Disease — Any deviation from or interruption of the normal structure or function of any part, organ, or system of the body, or combination thereof, that is manifested by a characteristic set of symptoms or signs

Donor Egg — An egg donated by a woman; either known or anonymous. The donor relinquishes all parental rights to any resulting offspring. Our program conforms to ASRM guidelines regarding donor eggs

Donor Embryo — An embryo donated by another couple, either known or anonymous. The donor relinquishes all parental rights to any resulting offspring. Our program conforms to ASRM guidelines regarding donor embryos

Donor Sperm — Sperm donated by another man; either known or anonymous. The donor relinquishes all parental rights to any resulting offspring. Our program conforms to ASRM guidelines regarding donor sperm

Dyspareunia — A condition in women in which intercourse is uncomfortable or painful due to a medical probelm or emotional issues


Ectopic Pregnancy — A pregnancy in which the fertilized ovum has implanted in a location other than the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube

Egg Retrieval — Procedure using ultrasound to guide a needle through the vagina into the ovary to collect eggs. Usually performed under sedation for the safety and comfort of our patients

Embryo — The fertilized ovum after it has begun the process of cell division

Embryo Transfer — Placement of embryos into a woman’s uterus through the cervix after IVF

Endometriosis — A condition in which tissue resembling the lining of the uterus is found elsewhere in the body (usually in the pelvis)

Endometrium — The tissue lining the uterus, in which a fertilized egg implants at conception

Epididymis — A structure that covers part of each testis and stores mature sperm cells

Estrogen (Estradiol) — A hormone that is produced in the ovaries and plays a role in regulating ovulation and endometrial development


Fallopian Tubes — The two narrow, hollow structures on either side of the uterus in the lower abdomen, extending to an ovary on each side

Fertilization — The penetration of the egg by the sperm and the resulting fusion of genetic material that develops into an embryo

Fetus — In medical terms, an embryo becomes a fetus at about the end of the seventh week of pregnancy, after major structures (head, torso, limbs) have formed

Follicle — A structure within the ovary containing the egg that is extruded at ovulation


Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT) — A variation of ART in which unfertilized eggs and sperm are placed together in the fallopian tubes, with fertilization taking place in the tube instead of a laboratory dish

Germ Cells (Gametes) — The sex cell — oocytes (eggs) and spermatozoa

Gestational Mother — In a surrogacy arrangement, the woman who carries a pregnancy to term and delivers a baby, which may or may not be genetically related to her

Gestational Sac — A fluid-filled structure that develops within the uterus early in pregnancy

Gonorrhea — A sexually transmitted infection caused by the microorganism Neisseria gonorrhea, which, if left untreated in a woman, may cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), pelvic adhesions and tubal blockage


Hypothalamus — A structure at the base of the brain. It secretes hormones that regulate the pituitary gland, which in turn regulates various bodily functions, including ovulation in women and sperm production in men


Implantation Bleeding — Light bleeding or spotting that sometimes occurs when a fertilized egg (embryo) implants in the uterus

Impotence — A condition in which a man cannot achieve or sustain an erection long enough to ejaculate inside the vagina

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) — A form of assisted reproduction in which an egg and sperm are combined in a laboratory dish, and the resulting embryo (sometimes called a pre-embryo) is transferred into the fallopian tube

Incompetent Cervix — A condition in which a pregnant woman’s cervix begins to dilate too soon, causing miscarriage

Infertility — The absence of conception after at least one year of regular unprotected intercourse

Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) — A technique in which a single sperm cell is injected through a microsurgical needle directly into the cytoplasm of an egg to facilitate fertilization

Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) — A technique in which sperm are introduced directly the cervix or uterus to produce pregnancy, with or without ovarian stimulation to produce multiple ova


Laparoscopy — A surgical procedure in which a fiberoptic instrument (a laparoscope) is inserted into the pelvic area through a small incision in the abdomen

Luteal Phase — The second half of the menstrual cycle, beginning at ovulation (day 14 in an average 28-day cycle) and ending with menstruation


Male Factor — Deficiencies in sperm quality, function or motility (ability to move) that make it difficult for a sperm to fertilize an egg under normal conditions

Miscarriage — Spontaneous loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks of gestation

Motility — In a semen analysis, the degree to which sperm cells are able to spontaneously propel themselves

Multifetal Pregnancy Reduction — A procedure in which the number of gestational sacs is reduced. This procedure is used to decrease the number of fetuses a woman carries and thereby improves the chances that the remaining fetuses will survive and develop into healthy infants

Multiple Birth — A pregnancy that results in the birth of more than one infant


Oligospermia — A cause of male infertility in which fewer than 40 million sperm are present in the semen from one ejaculation

Oocyte — An ovum; the egg before it is released at ovulation

Ova — The female sex cells, or eggs, which are produced in the ovaries

Ovaries — Two small organs on either side of a woman’s lower pelvis that produce ova, or eggs, and hormones

Ovarian Monitoring — The use of ultrasound and/or blood or urine tests to monitor the development of ovarian follicles.

Ovarian Stimulation — The use of drugs to stimulate the ovaries to develop follicles and eggs

Ovulation Induction — A procedure in which medication is used to stimulate a woman’s ovaries to produce multiple mature follicles and ova


Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) — Inflammation of the female upper reproductive tract (uterus, tubes and ovaries), usually resulting from infection with chlamydia and/or gonorrhea

Penis — The male reproductive organ, through which semen exits during ejaculation

Perinatologist — An obstetrician/gynecologist specializing in the care of pregnant women and their fetuses

Pituitary — A gland at the base of the brain. Hormones released from the hypothalamus stimulate the pituitary to secrete hormones that regulate various bodily functions, including ovulation in women and sperm production in men

Placenta — The thick pad of tissue in a pregnant woman’s uterus that provides nourishment to and disposes waste from the growing fetus

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) — A condition in which many small cysts form on both ovaries, preventing regular ovulation

Postcoital Test — A test used to evaluate the interaction between sperm and cervical mucus

Preimplantation Genetic Screening — A procedure in which one or two cells are removed from an embryo created through IVF. The removed cells are then screened for genetic abnormalities.

Premature Ejaculation — A condition in which ejaculation occurs before the penis enters the vagina

Premature Ovarian Failure — A condition in which the ovaries stop producing estrogen and cease ovulation before a woman reaches 40

Pregnancy, Chemical — Pregnancy documented by a blood or urine test that shows a rise in the level of the human gonadotropin (hCG) hormone

Pregnancy, Clinical — Pregnancy documented by the presence of a gestational sac on ultrasound

Primary Infertility — Infertility in a woman who has never had a pregnancy

Progesterone — A hormone produced in the ovaries that stimulates the endometrium to thicken in preparation for possible pregnancy during the latter part of the menstrual cycle (luteal phase)

Prostate Gland — A gland just below a man’s bladder that secretes fluid to help sperm pass through the urethra


Reproductive Endocrinologist — An obstetrician/gynecologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating infertility

RESOLVE — A national, nonprofit consumer organization offering education, advocacy and support to persons experiencing infertility. Services include a national Helpline, quarterly newsletter, extensive literature list, member-to-member nationwide contact systems, and local support groups through a network of more than 50 chapters


SART (Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology) — An affiliate of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine composed of clinics and programs that provide ART. SART reports annual fertility clinic data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Scrotum — A saclike pouch containing the testes at the base of the penis

Secondary Infertility — Infertility in a woman who has had one or more pregnancies

Seminal Vesicle — A small gland just behind the bladder in the male that stores sperm prior to ejaculation

Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) — An infection spread by sexual contact. Also called a sexually transmitted infection (STI)

Sperm Cells — The male sex cells (spermatozoa), which are produced in the testes

Sperm Count — An assessment of the number of sperm present in each milliliter of semen

Sperm Penetration Assay — A test examining the ability of sperm to penetrate and fertilize a modified hamster egg

Sperm Washing — A procedure to remove components other than sperm from a semen sample prior to intrauterine insemination

Spontaneous Abortion (Miscarriage) — A pregnancy ending the spontaneous loss of the embryo or fetus before 20 weeks of gestation


Testes — Two small organs at the base of the penis that produce sperm

Testosterone — A hormone produced by the testes that helps maintain the production of sperm

Thyroid — A gland at the base of the neck that secretes hormones influencing metabolism

Tubal Ligation — A type of female sterilization in which the fallopian tubes are cut, clipped or tied


Ultrasound — A procedure in which sound waves create an image of internal structures and organs OR a noninvasive technique for visualizing the follicles in the ovaries and the gestational sac or fetus in the uterus

Unexplained Infertility — Infertility for which the cause cannot be determined with current diagnostic techniques

Uterine Fibroids — Abnormal, benign (noncancerous) growths of muscle within the wall of a woman’s uterus

Uterus — The hollow, muscular organ in a woman’s lower abdomen, in which a developing fetus grows during pregnancy

Urethra — In both sexes, a narrow, tube-like structure through which urine passes from the bladder to the outside of the body. In males, it is also a passageway for sperm


Vagina — The elastic, muscular passageway leading from the cervix to the outside of a woman’s body

Varicocele — A cause of male infertility in which varicose veins are present in the blood vessels above the testes

Vas Deferens — The long, narrow tube through which sperm pass on their way from the testes to the seminal vesicles

Vasectomy — A procedure for male sterilization in which a small segment of each vas deferens is surgically removed to prevent sperm from entering the ejaculate


Zona Pellucida — The outer protein coat (shell) of an ovum, which must be penetrated by a sperm cell for fertilization to take place