In vitro fertilization (IVF) can seem like a godsend to any distressed couple who can’t conceive naturally. But like most medical procedures, it does have some side effects that you should know about. Just being aware may not only help you deal with milder side effects but also leaves you better prepared for some the serious, potentially life-threatening reactions.
During IVF, a woman’s eggs and a man’s sperm are combined in a lab dish. Fertilized eggs or embryos are then transferred into the womb where they may implant in the lining of the uterus and develop. The process mainly involves 4 stages:
- Induction of ovulation, where fertility medicines are usually used to stimulate the production of eggs. It’s possible to have IVF without taking fertility medicines but success rates tend to be lower.
- Egg retrieval, where a minor procedure is carried out to remove the eggs.
- Fertilization, where sperm procured from a donor or your partner is combined with the eggs. The eggs are then closely monitored to make sure that fertilization and cell division are happening. Once this takes place, you have embryos. In cases where the cause of infertility is sperm-related, sometimes a process known as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) may be used where a single sperm is injected into the egg.
- Embryo transfer, where the doctor transfers an embryo or embryos into your womb. Two weeks after the embryo transfer your doctor will conduct tests to find out if you’re pregnant.1
Let’s now take a look at the side effects and risks associated with this process.2
Nausea And Mood Swings From Fertility Drugs
During the very first stage of IVF when fertility medicines are usually used to induce ovulation, you might experience:
- Bruising: Mild soreness and bruising can occur where fertility medicines are injected. Injecting the medicines at different spots can help minimize the issue to some extent.
- Feeling sick: Nausea and vomiting may occur at this stage.
- Allergic reaction: Some people experience brief allergic reactions, like itching or reddened skin at the spot where the medicines are injected.
- Tender breasts: Breast tenderness is another side effect of using fertility medicines. You can also have increased vaginal discharge.
- Fatigue and mood swings: These are other side effects experienced during this phase.
Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome As A Reaction To Fertility Drugs
Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) is a reaction to fertility drugs that can potentially be fatal. It causes your ovaries to grow large and may lead to fluid leaking into your abdomen. About one-third of women may have OHSS in a mild form which typically goes away on its own. But some women may experience moderate or severe OHSS.
In rare cases, it can even be life-threatening – in less than 1% of women, it has been found to cause kidney failure and blood clots.3 Women who develop severe OHSS usually do so during the course of the week after their eggs have been retrieved. And since it can have dangerous consequences, it is important to watch out for the symptoms and see your doctor immediately should you experience them. The symptoms of OHSS include:
- Stomach pains and a swollen stomach
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling faint
- Reduced urination
- Shortness of breath4
Pain, Injury To Organs, And Pelvic Infection Risk During Egg Retrieval
During the egg retrieval process, a thin long needle guided by vaginal ultrasound is inserted into the ovary through the vagina to remove eggs. You may experience mild or moderate pain in your abdomen or pelvic area during or after the procedure. This typically goes away in a day or two.
But this is a surgical procedure and one that involves navigating the needle through delicate tissue into your ovary. One possible complication is injury to organs and tissue situated near your ovaries like your bladder or bowel. Pelvic infection can also develop. But this complication is usually rare because antibiotics are given during the procedure to minimize risks. In case an infection does develop, you may be given intravenous antibiotics to treat it. In rare cases, your ovaries, tubes, or uterus may need to be removed to manage an infection.
id="vaginal-spotting-and-infection-risk-during-embryo-transfer">Vaginal Spotting And Infection Risk During Embryo Transfer
Embryos are gently transferred to your womb via a catheter. You may feel slight cramping during the procedure. You may also experience slight bleeding (vaginal spotting) after. In rare cases, you may get an infection which is typically treated with antibiotics.
During IVF, multiple embryos are usually transferred to increase the likelihood of pregnancy. This can increase your chances of having twins, triplets, or more babies. Multiple births can be pose risks to the health of the babies as well as the mother. For instance, you’re more likely to have a miscarriage with multiple babies. There are also chances of premature birth or of the babies being underweight. Mothers carrying multiple babies are also more likely to suffer from problems such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, hemorrhage, and anemia.
Multiple births are 11 times more likely with IVF than when you conceive naturally.
Your doctor will usually transfer the minimum number of embryos required to ensure the highest possibility of a pregnancy and the lowest risk of multiple pregnancies. In some cases, only a single embryo is transferred and the remaining embryos are frozen so that they can be used later if you want.5 6
When the baby develops outside the womb, generally in the fallopian tube, it is known as an ectopic pregnancy. IVF may increase your risk of an ectopic pregnancy. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to save the baby in these cases. Immediate medical attention is critical in an ectopic pregnancy since it can cause a rupture in the fallopian tubes and lead to internal bleeding if it’s left too long. Symptoms that you need to watch out for include:
- Pain on one side of your lower abdomen
- Vaginal bleeding which causes a red or dark brown vaginal discharge
- Pain when you use the toilet
id="possibility-of-birth-defects">Possibility Of Birth Defects
Some research indicates that babies who are born through IVF have a higher risk of birth defects.8 But it is not yet clear whether this is due to IVF alone or mostly because of the underlying infertility and delayed conception. In cases where intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is done with IVF, there can also be a slight increase in the risk of chromosome abnormalities. But again, it’s not clear if this is due to the ICSI procedure or issues with the sperm.9
|↑1||What is IVF?. The National Infertility Association.|
|↑2, ↑6||In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): What Are the Risks? American Society for Reproductive Medicine.|
|↑3||In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): What Are the Risks?. American Society for Reproductive Medicine.|
|↑4, ↑7||Risks of fertility treatment. Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority.|
|↑5||Risks of fertility treatment.
|↑8||Understanding Infertility. Harvard Health Publication.|
|↑9||In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): What Are the Risks?. American Society for Reproductive Medicine.|