In vitro fertilization is one of the most effective and widely used forms of infertility treatment in the United States. According to the Mayo Clinic, thousands of babies are born in the U.S. each year with the use of IVF. The technique involves fertilizing mature eggs with sperm in the laboratory, then implanting the fertilized eggs into the mother’s uterus. IVF can, however, cause a number of side effects and complications.
Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome
Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, one of the most serious possible IVF side effects, is caused by the gonadotropin stimulating drugs used to produce the maturation of multiple ovary follicles and eggs. If the drugs are injected at the same time the patient’s estrogen levels are increasing rapidly, OHSS can develop. In its early stages, the syndrome causes sudden and severe pelvic pain, vomiting, nausea, and a rapid, unexplained gain in weight. If untreated, fluid can begin to build up in the abdomen and the lungs, causing trouble breathing. Clots may form, leading to complications such as strokes or embolisms, and the ovaries may swell hugely and rupture. Physicians carefully monitor patients before and after the injection of gonadotropin stimulating drugs in order to detect any signs of OHSS.
The most common side effect of IVF is the development of multiple pregnancies–twins, triplets, quadruplets or more. According to the Georgia Reproductive Specialists, this tendency increases the chance that multiple children born from IVF will suffer from birth defects, low birth weight and premature birth. The mother also has a greater chance of experiencing complications in a multiple pregnancy, including gestational diabetes, toxemia, miscarriage and pre-eclampsia. In certain cases, so many fertilized eggs will become implanted in the mother’s uterus that some of the fetuses must be removed. This surgery poses a risk to the fetuses left to develop in the uterus.
Bleeding and Infection
To retrieve eggs from the woman’s ovaries for later laboratory fertilization, a needle is inserted through the vagina. Bleeding and pain can occur after the procedure, as well as possible damage to the uterus, the ovaries or the bladder. An infection can start at the insertion site and spread throughout the uterus.
In rare cases, after the successfully fertilized egg has been inserted into the mother’s uterus, the embryo moves and implants, instead, in one of the fallopian tubes. Called an ectopic pregnancy, this can become a serious medical condition that causes severe abdominal and lower back pain, and bleeding.