As a treatment for infertility, IVF is generally very safe, and most patients experience little or no health issues or complications. But it does involve medical procedures, which do carry some risk when it comes to potential side effects.
Your fertility clinic should discuss with you any concerns you may have about your treatment but to help, we have put together our guide to what are the risks involved with IVF.
Lowdown on IVF
There are no guarantees with IVF treatment, but for couples or individuals experiencing infertility, it could be a positive route to becoming a parent. The success rate for a live birth is currently around 23%, with under 35s having a 31% chance of conceiving through the treatment. But the treatment is not without its risks, which your fertility clinic will work closely with you to mitigate.
Here are the main risks you need to consider:
Side effects of treatment
IVF does come with the possibility of side effects and reactions to the treatment, which in most cases will be mild. These include headaches and hot flushes, as well as some soreness in the site of any necessary injections. Nausea, breast tenderness, mood swings, and fatigue are also common side effects to expect.
Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome
A rare complication of IVF treatment, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome – or OHSS – can occur if a woman develops a sensitivity to the medication needed to increase her egg production. The condition can cause the production of too many eggs, which in turn can lead to ovarian pain. Other symptoms of OHSS include nausea, shortness of breath and feeling faint. Most cases of OHSS can be treated through hydration and rest, but in rare cases the condition can be serious enough to need hospital treatment.
The chances of having more than one baby in a single pregnancy is increased with IVF. Double embryo transfers through IVF are only recommended for women between 40 and 42, although those under 40 can be considered if there are no single high-quality embryos to choose from. However, double transfers do come with the risk of both embryos taking, resulting in twins or triplets. Multiple births can lead to complications, including gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia and miscarriage, as well as increasing the likelihood of a caesarean section, rather than a natural birth.
IVF treatment can also come with a slightly higher risk of an ectopic pregnancy, which is where the embryo develops in the fallopian tubes instead of the womb. Unfortunately, an ectopic pregnancy cannot come to full-term and so needs to be removed, either via medication or surgery. Your fertility clinic will conduct a scan six weeks after a positive pregnancy test to confirm it is developing correctly in the uterus, and not in the fallopian tubes. Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy include pain in the abdomen, vaginal bleeding or a dark discharge.
The distress and uncertainty of infertility, coupled with anxiety and physical impact of IVF treatment can understandably lead to emotional stress for parents-to-be looking for help to become pregnant. And, as not every IVF cycle will end and lead to a live birth, the pressure to conceive and the disappointment of an unsuccessful treatment can compound the emotional stress experienced. If you have concerns about the mental health risks of undergoing IVF, or are struggling at any point during your treatment, do speak to your fertility clinic, who will work to ensure you get the right support.