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IVF Risks And Side Effects

6 min read

In vitro fertilization or IVF is a highly specialized process in which female eggs are removed from the ovaries and fertilized by the sperm under controlled conditions in a laboratory culture dish. Since fertilization occurs ‘in vitro’ or glass, it is called as IVF. It is an ART (assisted reproductive technology).
The technique is a boon for those couples who are having following problems:

  • Damaged or blocked uterine or Fallopian tubes
  • If there is some minor problem with sperms. Major sperm issues are cured better with ICSI
  • In case of failure of IUI or use of clomiphene and other such fertility drugs
  • If you are unable to conceive in spite of trying for two years and the actual cause is still unknown

IVF Risks

What Are The Risks Associated With IVF Treatment?

Your doctor will discuss the of in vitro fertilization (IVF) with you before you begin treatment. Infact, it is very important for you to make a wise choice and know all the risks and side effects involved with the IVF treatment. The probable risks involved with ‘in-vitro-fertilization’ are:

Top 15 Risks And Side Effects Associated With IVF Treatment
  1. Multiple births: IVF increases your chances of multiple births if more than one embryo is implanted in uterus. This can result in onset of early or preterm labor and low birth weight babies. Not more than three embryos are transferred in the uterus to avoid the probability of multiple pregnancies
  2. Reaction to fertility drugs: Many women experience hot flushes, nausea, breast tenderness, mood swings, insomnia and irritability. Other side effects such as bloating, vomiting or abdominal discomfort are also seen with IVF medications. Ask your doctor for help. Painkillers such as paracetamol can be taken to treat pain and swelling
  3. Pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH): Presence of high blood pressure (above 130/90 mm of Hg) is also seen in mothers with IVF
  4. Heavy bleeding: Heavy uterine bleeding is also seen in women after implantation of IVF embryo
  5. Anemia: This is a consequence of heavy bleeding in some women. Sometimes due to severe anemia blood transfusion becomes essential to save the life of the mother
  6. Need of C-section for childbirth: Generally C-section is done after the completion of term in order to avoid any risk associated with normal delivery
  7. Low birth weight and preterm delivery: According to studies, the chances of low birth weight babies and preterm babies are more with IVF
  8. Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome: In IVF fertility enhancing drugs such as injectable human chorionic gonadotropins (HCG) are used for promoting ovulation. The HCG results in painful and swollen ovaries (the ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome). The symptoms of hyperstimulation syndrome are nausea, bloating, diarrhea and abdominal pain and discomfort. The worse form is accompanied with breath shortness and sudden weight gain. Read more about ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome here
  9. Miscarriage: Abortions or miscarriages are common with IVF as the embryo is fertilized in laboratory conditions and do not follow the normal course, the uterus often refuses to implant the embryo. The rate and frequency of miscarriages is increased with increasing maternal age and use of frozen embryo
  10. Complications associated with egg-retrieval procedure: Eggs are retrieved from the ovaries with the aid of aspiration needle, this can result in infection, bleeding or damage the urinary bladder, bowel or blood vessels
  11. Ectopic pregnancy: The implantation of fertilized egg outside uterus-in broad ligament, or in Fallopian tube or in ovaries is termed as ectopic pregnancy. The rate of ectopic with IVF is around 2 to 5 percent. These pregnancies usually do not thrive and result in spontaneous abortion. Ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency. Read more about an ectopic pregnancy here
  12. Birth defects: According to some experts, babies conceived by IVF procedure are more vulnerable to have congenital birth defects. However some believe that maternal age is the chief risk factor concerned with birth defects and not IVF
  13. Ovarian cancer: Some experts hold the notion that there is some relation between drugs used for egg stimulation in IVF and formation of some specific tumor in the ovaries, but this point is not supported by the researches
  14. Nausea and diarrhea: Hormonal tablets placed in vagina during IVF procedure can cause nausea and diarrhea. The hormonal injections are quite painful and bruising is common. You can cold compress at the injection site to allay pain and swelling
  15. Stress: IVF is an expensive procedure and affects you emotionally as well as physically. Psychological support from friends, spouse and counselors can allay your tensions and apprehensions regarding the infertility treatment upheaval

OHSS or ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome is an important side effect of IVF. There are some allergic reactions such as breathing problems, chest tightness, swelling of lips, tongue or mouth are also seen with IVF treatment. Your doctor might even adjust the dosages of hormones according to your condition. Certain side effects are quite alarming and should be immediately reported to the doctor. These include blurred eyesight, flashes or spots and are common with clomiphene citrate medication.
The side effects and risks associated with IVF are quite distressing and might make you overwhelmed. You can talk to your doctor or counselor or even friends to get the much needed emotional support.
Couple with a doctor

How Is IVF Treatment Done?

IVF involves the following steps beginning with fertility enhancing or promoting drugs to help you produce maximum number of eggs.

  • Fertility drugs: Usually a woman produces one egg in every menstrual cycle, so the chances of becoming pregnant are less as compared to those given fertility drugs where the number of eggs are more. Fertility drugs stimulate the release of more mature eggs from the ovaries, thus increasing the probability of becoming pregnant.
  • Hormone injections: Next you will be given hormone injections daily for about 12 days consecutively. They further stimulate the ovaries for releasing more mature eggs than normal (this is termed as ovarian induction). Usually gonadotrophins- LH (luteinizing hormone) and FSH (follicle stimulating hormones) are given.
    The response of the eggs and ovaries to the administration of fertility drugs and hormone injections is monitored by blood hormone tests and ultrasound scans
  • Egg recovery and sperm collection: Regular monitoring by ultrasound helps in analyzing the retrieval and collection of eggs from the ovaries. This is done with the aid of a fine hollow needle connected to an ultrasound probe. This probe helps in exactly locating the follicle having the mature egg. Mid discomfort is felt during the procedure and if it is too much your doctor will give you analgesics to allay pain.
    Fresh sample of semen is collected from your husband but if donated or frozen sperm are used, make sure they should be taken from the freezer. After washing the sperm the best ones are used for the fertilization of eggs in a glass dish and then allowed to culture in incubator
  • Zygote formation and embryo transfer: After a day of combining sperm with eggs, the glass dish is observed to find out whether the embryo has been formed and the fertilization has occurred. After fertilization the embryo is kept for two to five days in controlled conditions of the lab before it is transferred in maternal uterus. As a result of the process of fertilization, the embryo or blastocysts is formed. It is a ‘ball of cells’. The healthiest embryo is implanted in the uterus.
    Some fertility centers perform a specialized test called CCS or comprehensive chromosome screening which is a pre-implantation test, done to implant the embryo having full set of chromosomes. CCS increases your chances of becoming pregnant and cuts down the risk of miscarriage. CCS is done as a routine practice in elderly mom-to-be.

Mothers are given progesterone either by gel, pessary or injection to thicken the uterine lining. If endometrium or the internal lining is thin, the implantation of embryo will be difficult. A thin catheter is used to transfer one or two fertilized embryo in the uterus under ultrasound guidance.

What Is IVF Success Rate?

Your age and type of fertility problem are the main factors determining the success rate of IVF. The younger you are the better are the chances of success of in vitro fertilization.
The success chances can be increased by:

  • Having a BMI (body mass index) between 19 to 30
  • Avoiding alcohol consumption because alcohol is harmful for IVF
  • Avoiding smoking as smoking adversely affects the chances of success of IVF
  • Minimize caffeine intake
  • You success rate decreases with every failing attempt of IVF, so after third attempt if you are still not becoming pregnant, then accept that IVF is not a solution for you
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