IVF Side Effects & Risks

While generally successful and effective, IVF does carry with it some potential risks. Ultimately a natural process is being mimicked outside of the body, away from the fine control your body would normally exert on fertility and pregnancy, and so it’s not surprising that there is the potential for things not to go as planned.

Multiple births with IVF

As with any medical procedure there are risks. Some are more serious than others. As IVF treatments often involve multiple embryos being implanted to give a couple a better chance of pregnancy, there is an increased chance or twins or triplets, which is fine for some but not entirely desirable for others. 23.6% of births that have resulted from IVF treatment are twins or triplets. The HFEA restricts the amount of embryos that can be implanted to between 2 or 3 to reduce the chances of multiple births. This is because multiple births can pose health risks to the mother and child and are more likely to result in premature birth.

Babies from a multiple birth also have a risk of death in the first week 4 times higher than that of a single baby, and a risk of cerebral palsy which is 18 times higher. Single embryo transfers reduce the chance of multiple births, however they also reduce the chance of an embryo successfully implanting itself on the wall of the womb, and so clinics strive to achieve a balance between the two

Ectopic pregnancies with IVF

The chances of ectopic pregnancies are higher for women who have received IVF treatment. An ectopic pregnancy is where the pregnancy takes place outside of the womb, usually in the fallopian tubes but sometimes in the ovary. This will result in pain and vaginal bleeding which will increase as the pregnancy develops, if this occurs you should talk to your doctor immediately. If your doctor suspects that you have an ectopic pregnancy then they will run blood tests in search of the pregnancy hormone (human chronic gonadotropin (HCG)). Your pregnancy should also be regularly monitored with scans to ensure that the baby is developing normally in the uterus.

Hyperstimulation syndrome with IVF

Side effects from IVF may also be damaging to your health, including ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome where a build-up of fluid and ovaries in the abdomen results in pain and sickness. Hyperstimulation syndrome can be caused by fertility treatment, if your doctor feels that you are at a high risk of this then you may be put on an alternative treatment to conventional IVF. This can be either natural cycle IVF where your ovulation cycle will not be manipulated by drugs, and your eggs will be collected during their normal cycle (this can be used provided that ovulation is normal), or you may be put on mild stimulation where fewer drugs are used. Your health team will perform regular scans to monitor whether you are at risk of hyper stimulation syndrome. Although these alternatives have fewer side effects, fewer eggs are produced so are less effective than conventional IVF.

If you experience any of the symptoms, including a swollen abdomen ,pains and shortness of breath you should contact your health team. Although it is rare, hyper stimulation syndrome can be life threatening if the swelling fluid enters the abdomen or even the chest.

Drug reactions to IVF

You may also experience headaches, mood swings and/or hot flushes, however drug reactions are often mild and should not be worried about. If you do experience unexpected reactions then you will be given contact information for your clinic.

There are some concerns that the process of ovulation induction therapy can contribute to the development of ovarian cancer, although this link has not been proven.

You doctor will talk to you about the risks and assess your health before they decide which drugs to offer you depending on your individual situation.

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