Risk of In Vitro Fertilization

In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) is one of the most effective methods in Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). However, like all other medical procedures, IVF is not risk-free. 

What is IVF?

IVF is used by couples with problems conceiving or if pregnancy is not feasible. IVF utilises an advanced medical procedure to fertilise a woman’s egg and man’s sperm in a laboratory. Once the woman’s egg is fertilised, the embryo would be transferred to the woman’s uterus for pregnancy. 

Although IVF is regarded as the most effective ART, it’s highly likely that you will need more than a cycle of IVF before getting pregnant successfully. There are also cases of women who still cannot conceive, despite multiple IVF attempts. 

What are the risks of IVF? 

1. Ovulation Hyperstimulation Syndrome 

Ovulation hyperstimulation syndrome is a rare complication of IVF. It happens because the drugs used to induce ovulation during the IVF procedure causes your ovaries to be overstimulated. 2 – 6% of women are affected by a mild version of this syndrome, with symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting. 

There is also a more serious version of this condition, affecting approximately 1% of women, which can lead to blood clots in her lungs or legs, as well as fluid imbalances. However, the serious version of ovulation hyperstimulation syndrome is only likely to happen after retrieving more than 20 eggs if she has a history of OHS in previous IVF. Retrieving eggs does not cause OHS. The injected hormone causes it.

If the syndrome occurs, your doctor might have to cancel your IVF cycle and try again in the next cycle with different medications.

2. Egg-Retrieval Procedure Complications

Using medical equipment to collect eggs from a woman’s ovary could cause infection, bleeding, or damage to her bowel, bladder or blood vessels. There are also risks associated with sedation and general anaesthesia, which are commonly used by doctors to extract the women’s egg(s). Common risks of anaesthesia include nausea, vomiting, sore throat, confusion and muscle ache. 

3. Ectopic Pregnancy

Although doctors will try to control most variables throughout the IVF procedure, they cannot control where the embryo implants. Ectopic pregnancy occurs when the embryo implants outside of your uterus, usually in your Fallopian tube, resulting in the need for your pregnancy to be terminated. 

4. Increased Risk for Premature Birth & Birth Defects

Past research has suggested that IVF mothers have a slightly higher risk of giving birth to premature babies, or babies with low birth weight. There is also an increased risk of developing complications, such as neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (NRDS) and long-term disabilities, like cerebral palsy, for babies conceived through IVF, but the evidence is not conclusive. Maternal age is the primary risk factor in the development of birth defects, regardless of how the baby is conceived. More medical research is required in order to confirm whether IVF babies are at an increased risk of birth defects.

If you are considering undergoing IVF treatment, do discuss it with your doctor to see how you can minimise these risks. 

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