Common Side Effects of IVF Treatment

Couple consulting with doctor

Oftentimes, when one sees a parent with a new baby, it triggers a strange rush of emotions. You may feel overwhelming happiness for the new parents coupled with incredible sadness that you’re not one of them. Wanting to be pregnant and have a child when you’re unable to do so can be one of the most emotionally taxing experiences you’ll ever encounter, whether you’re in this situation because of fertility problems or other personal issues.

Fortunately, there is hope through in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Developed in 1978, IVF is now a relatively common procedure that has produced more than 200,000 American babies since it came to the U.S. in 1981. However, IVF is still a complex undertaking and can be both physically and emotionally frustrating – with a host of possible physiological and mental side effects. While IVF might be right for you, it is a decision that requires a great deal of consideration in advance. Before you decide whether IVF is in your future, be sure to understand the facts about the procedure, its risks, and its side effects.

IVF Overview

You’ll begin the IVF process by taking hormone injections that will cause you to produce multiple eggs. Next, your doctor will test you to decide if the eggs are ready to be retrieved.  This test can involve an ultrasound, as well as a blood draw. Once your doctor has determined your eggs are ready for retrieval, you’ll receive an injection to trigger ovulation.

Next, you’ll undergo the retrieval process in the clinic. Though the process is relatively short, usually 30 minutes to an hour, you’ll receive pain medication and/or anesthesia. Once the eggs are removed, your doctor will inject them with your partner’s sperm and allow to them to grow into embryos.

Finally, you’ll return to the clinic for the embryo transfer. Using a catheter that extends through your vagina and cervix into your uterus, your doctor will place one or more embryos. You will rest for about an hour and then leave the clinic. In about two weeks, your doctor will give you a pregnancy test to determine if the procedure worked.

Potential Side Effects

Like any medical procedure, there are side effects of IVF, some of which may be severe. Although your fertility doctor can discuss potential side effects and explain whether your risk for certain complications is particularly high, there is no way to determine with absolute certainty whether you’ll experience them. Many factors – such as age, pre-existing medical conditions, and allergies, contribute to whether or not you will experience side effects.

Drug reaction

You could experience a mild or a severe reaction to fertility drugs. Mild reactions include moodiness, headaches, restlessness, or hot flashes. Sometimes these symptoms go away on their own, but in other cases, they’ll need to be treated. A severe reaction can lead to Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS), which may involve a swollen stomach/stomach pains, nausea, and vomiting.

Ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when an embryo begins to develop in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus. In addition to causing miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies can cause vaginal bleeding and may be life threatening – though if they are diagnosed quickly they can typically be treated.

Lifestyle Changes

In order to ensure your IVF process has the best possible success rate, you’ll need to make some lifestyle changes. For example, high-impact exercise is not recommended while you are undergoing IVF. During some portions of your IVF treatment, you also should not color your hair and avoid contact with fertility toxic products. After embryo transfer, you’ll need to refrain from sexual intercourse for about two weeks.

IVF Risks

In addition to side effects, using IVF to conceive can cause additional pregnancy risks, most notably multiple births. In fact, according to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, a UK government medical resource, having twins, triplets, or other multiples is fertility treatment’s greatest risk. The chance of having multiples, however, is greatly reduced by the improvement of technology such as pre-implantation genetic screening. If you’re pregnant with multiples, your pregnancy is considered a high-risk pregnancy, which could mean greater risk of complications and a higher chance of miscarriage.

Miscarriage, in general, is another risk of IVF. Although miscarriage rates are not higher for those who undergo IVF treatment, IVF does not reduce the chance of miscarriage. It is important to note, however, that the advancements made in pre-implantation genetic screening, or PGS, reduces the chance of miscarriages due to abnormal embryos.

How to Prepare

Woman talking with doctor

IVF is a complex process that can be uncomfortable and even painful, so it is normal to feel anxious about starting the treatment. However, knowledge is power, and the more you know about IVF, the process, and the risks, the more you’ll be able to approach the treatment with confidence. A healthy attitude and strong determination are incredibly important to the success of your IVF treatment, as you’re less likely to get pregnant if you’re stressed. By being prepared, you’ll enhance both your emotional and your reproductive health.

Gain Knowledge and Ask Questions

If you’re confused about any part of the IVF process or you don’t understand why or how it works, simply ask. The more you know, the more you will be able to put your mind at ease. Also, the more you know about side effects and risks, the more likely you are to spot a concern before it turns into a major health problem.

Fertility doctors understand that IVF can be confusing, and a good fertility doctor is one who will answer your questions without making you feel bad for asking. If you don’t feel like you can talk to your fertility doctor, it is time to find a new one. Because this process can be long and frustrating, you will want to walk through it with someone you know you can trust.

Follow Your Doctor’s Advice

It is always important to listen to your doctor, but if you’re undergoing IVF, it is even more crucial to listen and follow doctor’s orders. The IVF process is a careful one – all variables must work together for it to be successful. For this reason, seemingly minor details like those regarding diet and exercise can play a major role in the treatment’s success.

Waiting to have a baby when you want nothing more than to become a parent can be stressful and depressing, and it can quickly take a mental toll. Although the IVF process offers hope, it can be long, uncomfortable, and sometimes, unsuccessful. You are most likely to succeed with IVF if you have sufficient knowledge of the procedure and a good attitude. With your mind in the right place and a commitment to follow the procedure, you’ll improve your emotional well being, as well as your likelihood of having the baby you’ve always wanted.

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