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In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): Side Effects and Risks

For those struggling to get pregnant due to fertility issues, in vitro fertilization (IVF) may be an option. IVF is a type of assisted reproductive technology (IVF) in which eggs are retrieved, fertilized with a sperm sample in a lab. The fertilized egg, or embryo, is then transferred to the uterus. If you are considering this fertility treatment, familiarize yourself with the in vitro fertilization (IVF) side effects and risks.

IVF Side Effects

Because it is a fairly intense medical treatment that includes changing hormone levels, there are some side effects and risks associated with in vitro fertilization. Side effects are possible during the ovarian stimulation phase due to the hormonal medications used. Women can also experience side effects during and after the egg retrieval and embryo transfer procedures. There are ways to make coping with side effects easier, but most women agree that the discomfort is worth it to get pregnant.

Side Effects from Medication

Unfortunately, the hormonal medications used for ovarian stimulation can cause some negative side effects. The symptoms you experience may vary from woman to woman and can differ depending on the types of medication used.

  • Soreness at the injection site
  • Mood swings
  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Abdominal bloating and/or discomfort
  • Breast tenderness or pain
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Menstrual bleeding or spotting
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Acne

Rare & Serious Side Effects of Fertility Drugs

The above side effects are not easy to live with, but most are not serious. In rare cases, some women do experience more severe side effects that require medical attention. If you experience these side effects, seek immediate medical care. These rare side effects include:

  • Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)
  • Ovarian torsion (twisted ovary, associated with OHSS)
  • Allergic reactions to medication
  • Vision changes

Side Effects after Egg Retrieval or Embryo Transfer

The procedures used to retrieve eggs and transfer embryo are not too invasive, but discomfort during and after is common. Common side effects include:

  • Mild cramping & bloating
  • Small amounts of vaginal discharge (clear or slightly bloody)
  • Breast tenderness
  • Constipation

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience more serious symptoms like high fever (over 100.5 °F), severe pelvic pain, blood in urine, or heavy bleeding. It is rare, but infection and other complications are possible after these procedures.

Risks Associated with IVF

While using assisted reproductive technology (ART) is a viable way for couples struggling with infertility to build their families, it is not without risks. Risks are pretty rare and pregnancies conceived via IVF have roughly the same risk levels as those conceived naturally. But, before you undergo the IVF process, you should know which risks are possible:

  • Miscarriage

It’s important to note that there is no evidence that there is a link between IVF and an increased risk of miscarriage. However, a miscarriage is always a risk to be aware of when pregnant, especially in the early stages of the pregnancy. The chances of miscarriage also increase with maternal age. For some, pregnancy loss is especially difficult after going through an intense and taxing process like IVF.

  • Ectopic Pregnancy

Though embryos are placed directly in the uterus when IVF is done, in very rare cases (2-5%) an ectopic pregnancy occurs when the embryo does not attach to the uterine lining and develops in other parts of the reproductive system. The fallopian tubes are the most common place for ectopic pregnancies to develop, but it can also happen in ovaries, the cervix, or in the abdominal cavities. Ectopic pregnancies are not viable and cause serious complications. If not caught early enough or left untreated, it can lead to life-threatening bleeding.

  • Conceiving Multiples

If you’ve been struggling to get pregnant, conceiving more than one baby probably does not sound like a bad thing to you. However, multiple births are linked to several different complications and present the highest risk in pregnancy. While patients undergoing IUI are more likely to conceive multiples, it is still possible in IVF. Complications associated with multiple births include:

  • Increased chance of needing a c-section
  • Gestational diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Premature birth

Because of advancements in IVF technology, there are ways to decrease the possibility of multiples. Some clinics will only transfer a single embryo during a cycle, which pretty much eliminates the chance of multiples. 

  • Premature Birth

In very rare cases, women who get pregnant via IVF may give birth before they reach full term. The risk of having a baby with low birth weight is also slightly elevated in mothers who conceive via IVF versus those who do so naturally. This risk decreases when frozen embryos are used rather than new and unfrozen embryos.

  • Emotional and Physical Stress

Going through fertility treatment like IVF can be extremely trying for some patients. It is physically demanding on the female partner’s body due to the hormonal medications that must be injected, the multiple tests needed to monitor progress, and the retrieval and transfer procedures. The process can also be very emotional for both partners because there is so much hope and uncertainty involved in the process. And the disappointment that comes with an unsuccessful cycle can be devastating. Being open and communicating feelings is important to avoid negative effects on relationships. Counseling is also a good option for many couples.

Make an Appointment

At Laurel Fertility, we are dedicated to providing our patients with state-of-the-art medical treatment as well as individualized care as they take their fertility journey. We know that the process can be overwhelming and emotional, so we are there every step of the way. If you have questions or concerns about fertility treatments like IVF, call us at (415) 673-9199. You can also request an appointment online.