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GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer) and ZIFT (zygote intrafallopian transfer) are modified versions of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Like IVF, these procedures involve retrieving an egg from the woman, combining with sperm in a lab then transferring back to her body, but in GIFT and ZIFT the process goes more quickly. While in traditional IVF the embryos are observed and raised in a laboratory for 3 to 5 days, in ZIFT, the fertilized eggs -- at this stage called zygotes -- are placed in the fallopian tubes within 24 hours. In GIFT, the sperm and eggs are just mixed together before being inserted and, with luck, one of the eggs will become fertilized inside the fallopian tubes.

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So what's the advantage of these procedures? The success rates are similar to IVF, and for some women who haven't been able to get pregnant with normal in vitro fertilization, GIFT or ZIFT may be a good idea. The processes used in GIFT and ZIFT are closer to natural conception. In ZIFT, the eggs are placed in the fallopian tubes rather than directly in the uterus. With GIFT, fertilization actually takes place in the body rather than in a petri dish.

However, in vitro fertilization techniques have become more refined. And since GIFT and ZIFT both require a surgical procedure that IVF does not, IVF is almost always the preferred choice in clinics. In vitro fertilization accounts for at least 98% of all assisted reproductive technology procedures performed in the U.S., while GIFT and ZIFT make up less than 2%.

What Types of Infertility Can GIFT and ZIFT Treat?

GIFT and ZIFT can be used to treat many types of infertility, except in cases where there is damage to or abnormalities of the fallopian tubes. These techniques can also be used in cases of mild male infertility, as long as the sperm is capable of fertilizing an egg.

If the woman is not capable of producing eggs that can be used in GIFT, but her partner's sperm is capable of fertilization, they might consider getting eggs from a donor. One reason for using an egg donor is age. Women over 35 are less likely to have viable eggs and more likely to have children with birth defects than younger women. A woman with premature ovarian failure, a condition in which menopause has begun early, might also consider a donor if she wants to carry a child. Most egg donation is anonymous, but some couples prefer to know their egg donor and take legal steps to contract for the donation of the eggs.

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