IVF is a type of assisted reproduction in which a man's sperm and a woman's eggs are combined in a laboratory dish outside of the body. One or more fertilized eggs (embryos) are transferred into the woman's uterus, where they can implant and develop in the uterine lining. Serious side effects from IVF medications and procedures are uncommon. However, as with all medical treatments, there are some risks. This document goes over the most common dangers.
IVF increases the risk of multiple births if more than one embryo is transferred to your uterus. A pregnancy with multiple fetuses carries a higher risk of early labor and low birth weight than pregnancy with a single fetus does.
Research suggests that IVF slightly increases the risk that the baby will be born early or with a low birth weight.
Use of injectable fertility drugs, such as human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), to induce ovulation can cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, in which your ovaries become swollen and painful.
Symptoms typically last a week and include mild abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If you become pregnant, however, your symptoms might last several weeks. Rarely, it's possible to develop a more severe form of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome that can also cause rapid weight gain and shortness of breath.
The rate of miscarriage for women who conceive using IVF with fresh embryos is similar to that of women who conceive naturally — about 15% to 25% — but the rate increases with maternal age.
Use of an aspirating needle to collect eggs could possibly cause bleeding, infection or damage to the bowel, bladder or a blood vessel. Risks are also associated with sedation and general anesthesia, if used.
About 2% to 5% of women who use IVF will have an ectopic pregnancy — when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube. The fertilized egg can't survive outside the uterus, and there's no way to continue the pregnancy.
The age of the mother is the primary risk factor in the development of birth defects, no matter how the child is conceived. More research is needed to determine whether babies conceived using IVF might be at increased risk of certain birth defects.
Although some early studies suggested there may be a link between certain medications used to stimulate egg growth and the development of a specific type of ovarian tumor, more-recent studies do not support these findings. There does not appear to be a significantly increased risk of breast, endometrial, cervical or ovarian cancer after IVF.
Use of IVF can be financially, physically and emotionally draining. Support from counselors, family and friends can help you and your partner through the ups and downs of infertility treatment.
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