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10 Real Risks Of Getting IVF (And How To Mitigate Them)

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In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is one of the various types of assisted reproductive technology (ART) used for infertility treatment and gestational surrogacy. IVF is usually attempted only if less invasive or expensive alternatives have failed or aren’t viable. It involves extracting an ovum or ova (egg or eggs) from the woman’s ovaries, taking a sperm sample, and finally, combining an egg and sperm outside the body, in vitro (“in glass”), i.e. in a laboratory dish. The embryo(s) is implanted into the same woman’s or a surrogate’s uterus. Some countries have prohibited or restricted the availability of IVF treatment. High costs and restrictions mean that fertility tourism is booming where IVF and other fertility treatments are available.

However, the decision to undergo IVF treatment needs to be taken only after proper consultation and consideration of the potential risks that the treatment involves.

Here are 10 serious risks, complications, and side effects of IVF that you should know about before opting for it:

1. The chances of miscarriage using IVF with fresh embryos are the same as those of miscarriage in non-assisted pregnancies. However, this rate increases with maternal age. The risk of miscarriage also increases slightly if frozen embryos are used during IVF.

2. Egg retrieval carries small risks of excessive bleeding from the ovaries or infection and damage to organs close to the ovaries, like the bowel or bladder. In rare cases, the patient may also develop a pelvic infection.

3. IVF increases the chance of multiple pregnancies. Multiple pregnancies can be harmful to both the mother and the babies. Some risks and concerns include increased the likelihood of early labour and premature delivery, low birth weight, maternal high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes.

4. The use injectable fertility drugs for ovarian stimulation may cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), in which the ovaries swell and become painful. OHSS can lead to extremely enlarged ovaries, the presence of large amounts of fluid in the lungs and abdomen, and dehydration in severe cases.

5. IVF babies have a slightly increased risk of birth defects over naturally conceived babies.  According to ASRM, Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), that is used at times in an IVF procedure to boost chances, may increase the risk of sex chromosome abnormalities. However, further research is needed to fully confirm this risk.

6. Some studies indicate that the use of IVF can also slightly raise the chances of premature delivery of the baby or a low birth weight.

7. There is a 2 to 5 percent risk of ectopic pregnancy with the use of IVF. As the fertilized egg does not implant inside the uterus, it can’t survive and there’s no way to continue the pregnancy to full term.

8. Some initial research suggests there might be links between certain fertility drugs used to stimulate egg growth and the development of a particular type of an ovarian tumour that could lead to ovarian cancer. But the findings are not conclusive.

9. The various kinds of medication prescribed during the IVF treatment cycle can cause irregular menstrual cycles for a short period after treatment is over. It may also cause unnaturally heavier periods.

10. During embryo(s) transfer, a speculum is inserted into the vagina and the embryos are transferred into the uterus through a catheter. This can result in mild cramping in some women when the catheter is inserted through the cervix.

You can utilize the following tips to avoid most of these complications and risks:

1. In case of patients below 35 and with a more favourable prognosis, transferring only one embryo is preferable.

2. Women disposed to hyperstimulation should be given FSH at a lower dosage and be monitored carefully throughout treatment.

3. If your age is over 42, donor eggs or donor embryos are a consideration as they eliminate many of the risks involved in IVF.

4. A health regime is imperative for a successful treatment. Ensure that your BMI is in-range and eat a balanced diet, including lots of fruits and vegetables.

5. Stop smoking and drinking – known causes of miscarriage. Also, avoid non-prescription drugs.

Do you still have questions on IVF?