Side effects


IVF is normally a very straightforward treatment and serious side effects are uncommon. There are, however, some problems that on rare occasions may lead to complications. In order to make a fully informed decision about IVF treatment, you need to be aware of the possibility that these problems could arise.


Multiple pregnancy


The risk of multiple pregnancy increases with the number of good quality embryos transferred. For the majority of people, we recommend the transfer of only one embryo at a time because of the risks involved with multiple pregnancies. Recent research has shown that a twin pregnancy is associated with a greater risk of miscarriage, premature birth, cerebral palsy, respiratory distress, low birth weight and admission to intensive care.


Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)


Some women are very sensitive to the drugs used to stimulate egg growth and respond by growing too many eggs. The very high hormone levels can cause symptoms – called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome – where there is abdominal swelling due to a build-up of fluid causing severe pain and breathing difficulties. This problem may require hospital admission for treatment. Usually the condition settles by itself over a few days. However, a few rare cases have been reported worldwide where serious complications have developed including blood clots, kidney disease, lung disease and death.


Egg pick-up complications


Any surgical procedure has risk. There is therefore a small risk of infection as a result of the egg pick-up. This is normally not severe and is treated with antibiotics. Rarely however, (approximately one case per 1000 egg collections) the infection may be severe and may damage the fallopian tube or ovary, requiring surgical treatment. It has also been reported that, although rare, other serious complications of egg pick-up may occur such as damage to bowel, bladder and blood vessels or excessive sedation leading to breathing difficulties.


Long-term effects


Effects on babies


Overall the studies on IVF over the past 20 years are favourable indicating that children conceived by IVF are on the whole very healthy. There is however, a slight increase in the risk of premature birth in babies conceived through IVF (even for single-baby pregnancies).

In addition, recent research suggests that for children conceived through IVF, the risk of problems at the time of birth, such as heart issues or cerebral palsy appears to be a little higher (around 7%), compared with naturally conceived babies. We really do not know why  this is. It may be something in the IVF process but it may also be the fact that parents who find it difficult to become pregnant are those who have the highest risk of passing on genetic problems to their children.


The vast majority of IVF children are perfectly healthy and grow up to be absolutely normal children and adults.


Effects on women


There has been considerable discussion about the possibility that IVF is linked to a number of cancers, including ovarian cancer and breast cancer. Long term (>12 months) continuous use of Clomid (clomiphene citrate) has been associated with an increased risk of cancer of the ovary. Cancer of the ovary is also more common in infertile women. However, a recent study in Australia has reassuringly found no increase in the risk of cancer of the breast, ovary or uterus associated with IVF treatment.


While long-term health effects of IVF remain a possibility, we are currently not aware of any health risks that are increased as a result of going through IVF.


Attend a free information seminar
Westmead ButtonWestmead Doctor, IVF clinic
When: Wednesday 28 November 2018
Time: 6pm
Where: Westmead Hospital