Introduction to IVF and the side effects:
IVF or in vitro fertilisation means that fertilisation of the woman's egg by the man's sperm takes place outside of the body - usually in a glass dish. This has given rise to the term 'test tube babies'. The very nature of the procedure and the processes involved, means that side effects can arise.
The procedure is used to help couples who are having trouble conceiving naturally and is most commonly used to help women with blocked fallopian tubes and men with low sperm quality.
Because IVF involves intervening with the woman's menstrual cycle and stimulation of the ovaries, there are several possible side effects that the woman may suffer from as well as potential consequences that may affect the pregnancy itself.
Reaction to drugs:
At the start of the IVF process, some women will be given a drug that suppresses their natural menstrual cycle. This is usually given as a nasal spray or injection. The side effects of this drug are similar to the symptoms of the menopause and include hot flushes, vaginal dryness, mood swings and acne.
The next step will usually be to take a drug that stimulates the ovaries to produce more eggs. In most cases these drugs, such as Clomid, will only have mild side effects such as acne, tiredness, soreness of the breasts and weight gain.
The stronger drugs such as the gonadotrophins can also produce side effects such as bloating, fluid retention and skin reactions.
A very small number of women however will suffer a serious reaction to some of these fertility drugs which may result in ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome or OHSS.
Ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome (OHSS)
Ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome can be very dangerous and this explains why women are monitored closely when taking fertility drugs. The symptoms include severe swelling of the stomach, vomiting, severe stomach pain and difficulty breathing. The ovaries can become grossly enlarged because of excessive egg production and this can lead to the abdominal cavity filling with fluid. Fortunately this is a rare occurrence and is not life threatening if treated immediately.
Ectopic Pregnancy and Multiple Births:
Once the egg or eggs have been fertilised in the laboratory, one or more will be transferred back into the woman's uterus.
It is at this stage that the risks affecting the actual pregnancy can occur. Ectopic pregnancies can occur in any woman, but the chances are around four times higher in women who have undergone IVF. This happens when the embryo implants and grows away from the uterine wall, usually in the fallopian tube. This will cause severe pain and bleeding and usually requires surgery.
The final and biggest risk of IVF is that of multiple births - more than one baby in one pregnancy. While some couples may be happy with this, there are significant risks to both the mother and babies. Babies who have to 'share' the womb are more likely to be premature and be smaller than single babies.
The mother is also more likely to suffer from a miscarriage and to have high blood pressure and diabetes during her pregnancy.