Infertility

Complications of infertility

Some infertility treatments can cause complications, including side effects from medication, multiple pregnancy and stress.

Side effects of medication

Some medications used to treat infertility can cause side effects. These may include:

For a full list of possible side effects, please see the patient information leaflet that comes with your medication, or read our medicines information page.

Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome

Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) is a rare complication of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). It occurs in women who are very sensitive to the fertility drugs taken to increase egg production. Too many eggs develop in the ovaries, which become very large and painful.

OHSS is more common in women under 30 and in women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). OHSS generally develops in the week after egg collection.

The symptoms of OHSS are pain and bloating low down in your tummy (abdomen), nausea or vomiting. Severe cases can be dangerous. Contact your clinic if you have any of these symptoms.

You may need to go to hospital, so your condition can be monitored and treated by healthcare professionals.

Ectopic pregnancy

If you have IVF, you have a slightly higher risk of an ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo implants in the fallopian tubes rather than in the womb.

If you have a positive pregnancy test, you'll have a scan at six weeks to make sure the embryo is growing properly and that the pregnancy is normal.

Tell your doctor if you experience vaginal bleeding or stomach pain after having IVF and a positive pregnancy test.

Pelvic infection

The procedure to extract an egg from an ovary may result in a painful infection developing in your pelvis. However, the risk of serious infection is very low. For example, there is likely to be less than one serious infection for every 500 procedures performed.

Multiple pregnancy

If more than one embryo is replaced in the womb as part of IVF treatment, there's an increased chance of producing twins or triplets.

Having more than one baby may not seem like a bad thing, but it significantly increases the risk of complications for you and your babies. These include:

  • having a higher risk of miscarriageanaemia and heavy bleeding; you are also more likely to go into early labour and need a caesarean section or assisted ventouse or forceps delivery
  • up to 25% of multiple pregnancies cause pregnancy-related high blood pressure
  • being two to three times more likely to develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy if you're carrying more than one baby
  • the risk of pre-eclampsia is three times higher for twin pregnancies and nine times higher for triplets

The 2013 NICE fertility guidelines recommend that double embryo transfers should only be considered during treatment in women aged 40-42. Younger women should only be considered for a double embryo transfer if there are no top-quality embryos.

Read more about the risks of multiple births on the One at a time website.

Stress

Infertility can be stressful and put a strain on relationships. It may be helpful to join a support group, where you can talk through your feelings with others experiencing similar problems.

Finding out you have a fertility problem can be traumatic, and many couples find it helpful to talk to a counsellor. They can discuss treatment options, how they may affect you and the emotional implications. Your GP should be able to refer you to a counsellor as part of your fertility treatment.

Read more about managing stress.

Glossary

Ovulation
Ovulation is when an egg is released from a woman's ovaries.

Ovaries
The ovaries are two small, round organs in the female reproductive system that release an egg every month.

Fallopian tubes
The tubes connecting the ovaries to the womb.

Womb
The womb (or uterus) is a hollow, pear-shaped organ in a woman where a baby grows during pregnancy.

IVF
IVF stands for in vitro fertilisation. An egg is surgically removed from a woman and fertilised by a sperm outside of the body.

Last updated: 11 August 2015

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