As with all medical procedures IVF treatment does carry certain risks. Anyone taking medication for any reason should be aware of the possible side effects and should report adverse effects to those managing their treatment. However, it is also important to appreciate that most women go through IVF without serious problems.
One of the significant adverse outcomes of IVF treatment is the increase in multiple pregnancy rates. While many infertile couples may welcome a multiple pregnancy as a bonus it is important to note that it carries significant risks to both the mother and the babies when compared to singleton pregnancies. Medical complications during the pregnancy are increased and include a higher incidence of high blood pressure known as pre-eclampsia which can be life threatening to the mother and babies, and antepartum haemorrhage, bleeding before the onset of labour. Multiple pregnancies are also associated with more sickness, fatigue, heartburn, and lack of sleep during pregnancy. Other possible complications include:
- Incompetent cervix
- Haemorrhage and vaginal bleeding,
- Gestational pregnancy diabetes
- Kidney infection
- Polyhydramnios (excessive amounts of amniotic fluid that surrounds the fetes)
- Intrauterine Growth Restriction
- Extended bed rest
Premature labour is also a significant risk and can lead to neonatal complications which may cause growth retardation of the babies. Very preterm babies are more likely to suffer serious lifelong health problems such as cerebral palsy and disability. Multiple pregnancies have a four-fold increase in the rate of low birth weight compared to single pregnancy. The risk of lifelong disability increases significantly for babies that are underweight.
Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS)
OHSS is a rare but potentially dangerous medical condition that can occur in women undergoing ovarian stimulation during IVF treatment. Most symptoms of OHSS are mild and usually go away without treatment within a few days after the egg retrieval. Severe OHSS requires hospitalisation and close, intense medical supervision.
Women who develop OHSS have dramatic enlargement of their ovaries and fluid can shift from the blood stream into the abdominal cavity causing distension and discomfort, and sometimes into the cavity around the lungs causing breathing difficulties. Due to increased thickness of the blood, thrombosis or clotting can also become a problem. Clots can later break-off and move to other parts of the body causing damage.
One of the purposes of monitoring the IVF cycle is to detect early signs of OHSS and modify or cancel the treatment if there are indications that this is developing.
The medications used for IVF are known to create some minor side effects in women, including:
- Breast tenderness and increased vaginal discharge
- Abdominal swelling or bloating
- Mild bruising and soreness at the injection site
- Temporary allergic reactions, such as skin reddening and/or itching at the injection site
- Mood swings and fatigue
- Hot flushes
Psychological and emotional risks
Undoubtedly infertility can lead to stress, and stress in turn can also lead to infertility. Treatment for infertility is also stressful because of the emotional “roller coaster” of expectation, disappointment and success and the marked hormonal changes that occur during the cycle of treatment. This can in turn place strain on your relationship. We highly recommend that our patients undergoing IVF treatment seek the services of an experienced infertility counsellor.