Consider this... when you go into a body art shop to get a piercing, you expect it to be a simple procedure, yet the shop won't perform the piercing on you until you sign their consent form. The last time I was in one of these shops for my sister's belly-button piercing, she signed a consent acknowledging the following risks: infection, infectious disease (such as HIV, even though they follow the right procedures to avoid this ever from happening), amputation, and even death! I guess if you allow an infection to progress untreated, it could eventually lead to amputation and death, right? You would never die directly from a piercing unless they pierced your heart!
The risk of death during an IVF cycle is the same - if you have any minor side effects happen afterward but you don't take the responsibility to get it checked or treated, the final result could end in death. So the IVF clinic cannot ever promise you that there is zero chance of it happening. But there is no conceivable way I can think of where an IVF cycle could cause you to die from it directly - this isn't heart surgery either. Actually, in the medical field, this procedure is considered relatively low-risk. So how low-risk is it?
One of the biggest concerns that doctors could only theorize back when I was an egg donor in 2008 was the risk of cancer, and because IVF had been around only 30 years then, there were no long-term studies available yet. I had to accept the risk of theorized cancer back then. Fortunately, for anyone reading this now, studies have finally come out disproving that fertility drugs can cause cancer. Hooray!
Szalavitz, Maia. "Putting to Rest Fears that IVF May Be Linked to Cancer." time.com. Time, 08 Dec 2010. Web.
Iacurci, Jenna. "Do fertility drugs cause cancer? Researchers say no." parentherald.com. Parent Herald, 03 Apr 2014. Web.
The most common risks of egg donation is pregnancy, infection, and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which I explain in this blog post. I've heard the risk of OHSS quoted by different clinics anywhere from 5% up to 15%, it really depends more on the clinic itself. If you haven't read about OHSS, make sure you do. It's very manageable and can be prevented from reaching a severe case if you understand what to look for.
As for the rest of the more severe but rare issues, I found another study done in Australia published in the Oxford Journal regarding statistics of complications from IVF. Keep in mind, this study was done over 15 years ago, and IVF has advanced further since then with more advanced methods, so these stats may be even lower today. Below are some of the points:
- Death has never occurred as a side effect in any of the 29,700 IVF studied cases. Out of all these cases, 2 deaths occurred afterward - to women within 3 months after giving birth to their IVF children because of pregnancy/labor complications.
- In the case of OHSS, it's normally only mild to moderate symptoms that are experienced, which do not require hospitalization. Out of 10,125 IVF cycles, OHSS needing hospital care occurred in 0.7% of cycles.
- Complications of follicle puncture involving bleeding occurred in 0.5% of cycles.
- Post-operative infections requiring antibiotics or surgical management occurred in 0.3% of cycles.
- Similar findings came from a retrospective analysis of 2,495 IVF cycles at a single Dutch clinic (Roest et al., 1996). Hospital admission was required in 0.7% of cycles due to severe OHSS; adnexal torsion occurred in two patients, and both required ovariectomy; and post-operative infection requiring hospital admission occurred in 0.3% of cycles.
- Neither of these studies reported fatal complications of IVF treatment.
Some less severe side effects of the egg retrieval are often times dehydration and constipation. I think the water that is being drawn to your abdomen causing the bloating, especially during OHSS, is being pulled from your bloodstream so thus dehydration and lack of fluid to keep your bowels dry. That's why we instruct donors to drink lots of Gatorade and coconut water to stay hydrated with electrolytes, and also high protein diet is always directed by IVF nurses.
Another side effect for some could be nausea from the anesthesia. Some mixtures just don't work well with some bodies, like myself at my first donation - I could not keep anything down for about 36 hours after my retrieval. I expressed that concern at my next donation after that and the anesthesiologist gave me a different cocktail plus a motion sickness patch behind the ear. I did much better that time, like taking a nap and feeling good afterward. This is pretty rare too and I've only seen it in a dozen other donors out of the more than 1,500 cycles we've done at AED.
So there you have it. No responsible IVF doctor or agency can promise you a zero chance of the risks happening, but there is certainly a less than 1% chance that it ever could. So what happens if in the very rare case it does happen to you?
Every egg donor agency requires the Intended Parents to purchase a Donor Medical Insurance policy, which becomes the donor's primary insurance during the donation and will cover 100% of medical costs related to the egg donation within 3 months of the retrieval, up to the amount of $250,000. If you suspect you are experiencing side effects, it's important to call the IVF nurses immediately to see if they can bring you back in for a follow up check or to treat the symptoms. If you traveled for the donation and already returned home, or it's after hours and the IVF clinic is no longer open, call the phone number on the insurance card given to you by your Case Manager to ask which hospital nearest you is in-network and go there for emergency care. Print out the card to take with you to submit as your only insurance - do NOT ever use your own insurance or this IVF insurance cannot process your claim. It's better to have the entire bill sent to you and then submit to the IVF insurance filed as a claim. We do help each donor with the claims process - actually it's required, so be sure to stay in constant communication with us if you suspect anything.