Risks and Side Effects

IVF treatment calls for lots of blood tests and hormonal drugs either injected or as a nasal spray. The doctors suppress the menstrual cycle for purposes of inducing ovulation at a later stage. This treatment puts the patient into an artificial and temporary state of menopause. Some patients even experience symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and mood swings

IVF is a very stressful experience for both father and mother. It’s not uncommon for a marriage to fall apart because of all the stress, especially if a pregnancy and a healthy child are not achieved. However, a Swedish study showed that there was no significant correlation between stress and IVF outcome. As a result of this study, it has been recommended that doctors and medical staff might relieve some stress by letting couples know that it does not affect outcomes.

This doesn’t mean that the pressure associated with IVF does not bring on stress that can lead to depression. Even the expenses incurred cause anxiety and knowing what is happening to the family’s finances can be overwhelming. Considering that the alternative is infertility, which itself can be the cause of extreme stress and depression, the hopeful parents are caught between a rock and a hard place.

Multiple births are the major complication with IVF, and they occur because of the transfer of multiple embryos. The risks of multiple births include risk of losing the baby, complications at birth, prematurity, and neonatal morbidity, possibly long-term. Some countries have tried to avoid these problems by placing strict limitations on how many embryos may be implanted; however, even in those cases they are not necessarily being followed. In the US, the case of the so-called octomom, who bore eight children at once as a result of IVF even though she already had six other young children and had no apparent source of income outraged the public and brought on an investigation of the doctor responsible for the IVF. He has since been expelled from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Another risk is the spontaneous splitting of embryos in the womb although it is rare. This condition produces identical twins. A study of 73 infants born as a result of IVF reported that 8.7% of single-birth infants and 54.2% of twins were born with low birth weight. Another more recent study indicates that babies born singly as a result of IVF tend to be at risk for lower birth weight although no reason has been suggested for that phenomenon.

The stage in IVF where the ovaries are being stimulated by fertility medication has been shown to result sometimes in a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHS). The cases range from mild to severe and may extend into early pregnancy. Some symptoms are abdominal bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and weight gain. Urination may be affected and in severe cases may cease. Symptoms usually go away in a week or two although they may be more severe and hang around longer if pregnancy occurs. Several fatal cases have occurred; however, the rate is quite low.

Birth defects are often mentioned in connection with IVF and much controversy has arisen around this issue although most studies don’t show a significant increase. However, in 2008, the National Birth Defects Study in the US found in an analysis of birth data that certain birth defects occurred oftener in infants conceived via IVF. These include septal heart defects, cleft lip, esophageal defects, and anorectal defects.

Most babies conceived through IVF are healthy and many happy families around the world have been blessed with a much-longed-for baby.