How safe is in vitro fertilization (IVF)?
We still have a lot to learn about assisted reproduction in general and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) in particular. We don’t fully understand all the risks that may be associated with various procedures, though an ever-mounting body of data is being accumulated all the time, helping doctors and patients find the safest, most viable outcomes for every stage of infertility treatment.
One of the few specific medical risks associated with fertility medications is Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). This is an adverse reaction to the certain fertility drugs that can cause pain, bloating, or a host of other complications. The risk of developing OHSS is slight, most cases that do develop are very mild, and careful monitoring throughout the IVF cycle should catch it before significant problems occur. Your IVF doctor will explain the specific symptoms that you need to watch for, as well as how to discern a mild case of OHSS (which simply requires time and bed rest) to a more severe case which may require hospitalization (and very rarely, urgent treatment).
Other risks to the mother
All medical procedures and all medications carry a degree of risk, and IVF drugs and procedures are no different. But IVF drugs, when used as directed, are no more or less harmful than any other medication. Though they flood the body with chemicals designed to produce a specific reaction in the ovaries they don’t stay present in the body for very long, and haven’t been shown to pose any long-term increased risks for cancers or other ailments.
IVF procedures like ultrasounds, egg retrieval and re-implantation also haven’t been shown to cause any negative effects, and while the egg retrieval is the most invasive procedure in a typical IVF cycle it doesn’t require general a general anaesthetic, which would carry a slightly higher risk than just a mild sedative.
Risks to the baby
There’s a lot of concern surrounding an increased incidence of birth defects or chromosomal abnormalities in children born through IVF, but at this time there’s little evidence to support such a claim. IVF isn’t rocket science – an egg simply meets several sperm, just like it would in the body, and any resulting embryos are kept in conditions that mimic the body’s natural state as much as possible. The technique known as ICSI – Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection – where a single sperm is physically inserted into a single egg, also hasn’t been shown to have any adverse effects, though the data on this technique is still somewhat limited, since the first children born through ICSI are still only in their teens. But the first baby born through IVF itself is now in her 30’s, and she herself has had a child through natural means – a good sign that a person’s infertility won’t necessarily be handed down to a future generation.
Stay informed and up to date
The field of IVF is rapidly evolving, with new research, treatments and other breakthroughs coming almost every month. Review the safety of your particular procedures with your IVF doctor – he or she will be able to give you the latest information, and explain how any unique conditions (like asthma or diabetes) may affect your specific course of treatment.