Fertility Treatment Risks: Are they a Concern?

Fertility treatments can bring miraculous results to many couples who wish to have children, but have faced obstacles to conception. Fertility treatments can be complicated and intense, and some pose risks. Should a woman be concerned about potential risks and side effects of fertility treatments?

Hormones and Their Risks

Multiple births: The biggest risk when taking hormones as a treatment for infertility or in preparation for a secondary treatment is a multiple pregnancy. The chance of having multiple births is about 50 percent when taking fertility drugs. This is especially true in women who are in their early 30s or younger.

Multiple births can carry risks for both the babies and the mother, including:

•    Premature birth
•    Low birth weight
•    Risk of death in the womb or during a baby's first week of life is four times higher with twins, and seven times higher with triplets than with a single birth
•    Risk of developing cerebral palsy is five times higher for twins and 18 times higher for triplets, than for a single birth.

Ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome (OHSS): Slightly enlarged ovaries are a normal response to fertility drugs. OHSS can occur when the ovaries are dramatically enlarged with fluid. The fluid is released into the pelvic cavity during ovulation and can cause medical complications. Less than 1 percent of women with OHSS progress to more serious developments like blood clots and kidney failure.

Ovarian cancer: Research shows that a high number of uninterrupted ovulations when taking fertility drugs can increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer. Women taking fertility drugs also experience higher levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone, which is linked to an increased risk for ovarian cancer. This link between fertility drugs and ovarian cancer remains controversial among researchers. A 2009 Danish study refutes the increased risk for ovarian cancer.

Fertility Drug Side Effects

Physiological side effects of hormone-based fertility drugs include:

•    Hot flashes
•    Irritability and restlessness
•    Sadness, depression
•    Headaches
•    Weight gain
•    Breast tenderness
•    Vaginal bleeding
•    Miscarriage

Assistive Reproductive Treatments (ART)

Assistive reproductive treatment is a general term that covers a range of fertility treatments that include in vitro fertilization (IVF), gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT), zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT), and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), donor eggs or embryos and surrogacy. ARTs are invasive procedures that carry potential risks.

IVF and Multiples: Undergoing IVF treatment increases the likelihood of multiple births. This is mostly due to the fertility drugs taken in preparation for the procedure, but is also impacted by the number of embryos, (usually 2-4 are inserted), which can implant in the uterine wall. More than one embryo is likely to implant in 20-30 percent of IVF patients, resulting in multiple births.

IVF and Ectopic Pregnancies: The risk of a pregnancy developing outside of the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube, is higher in IVF patients. The potential for internal bleeding is increased if the tube ruptures, making this a surgical emergency.

The world of fertility treatments is always expanding with new techniques and treatments, helping to create new and growing families. A specially trained obstetrician/gynecologist, commonly known as a Fertility Specialist, is the best resource to investigate the safest and most successful treatment plan for prospective parents.