Thanks to modern techniques, the risks of something harmful happening during the IVF procedure itself -- as opposed to as a result of taking IVF drugs or becoming pregnant with multiples though IVF -- are very small indeed. If, like most people, you aren't too keen on needles and injections, you'll probably be a little anxious about the egg retrieval and embryo transfer stages of the procedure, and perhaps also about having to take hormone injections. While you should certainly speak to your doctor about your concerns, keep in mind that the procedural "dangers" of IVF are an essential part of the process, but are not something which should cause you undue worry.
Egg retrieval takes place after an ovulation-inducing hormone injection has been given to the IVF patient. This injection encourages the follicles in her ovaries to release the eggs they have been nurturing, and to send them on their way down the fallopian tubes. Just before the eggs start out on their journey, the IVF specialist needs to intervene by removing the eggs and carrying out a fertilization procedure in the laboratory. In order to get the eggs out, he needs to use a needle to suck or "aspirate" them out of the follicles.
Using ultrasound technology to watch his every move on a screen, the doctor inserts this fine needle into the ovaries via the upper part of the vaginal wall. Even though a specialist at a reputable IVF clinic will be well trained in this technique, there is a tiny possibility that the needle may cause some tearing.
Risks associated with this use of the needle are as follows:
- Slight tearing or bleeding in the vagina
- Bleeding from the ovaries
- Damage to organs surrounding the ovaries (uterus, bladder, bowel, etc.)
The procedure is usually performed under sedation or local anesthetic, which means that there's also a small risk of having a bad reaction to the medication used to eliminate discomfort during egg retrieval.
It's important to emphasize that these things very rarely happen.
Transferring fertilized embryos back to the uterus also entails a very small element of risk. This part of the procedure is usually carried out using a fine catheter which is loaded with the embryos being returned to the uterus. A speculum is used to open up the vaginal passage and to provide access to the cervix (the mouth of the uterus). An abdominal ultrasound exam is given at the same time, so that the doctor can see what he's doing. Then the catheter is inserted into the uterus, and positioned near the fundus (the top of the uterus). Here the embryos are expelled from the catheter, and the catheter is then withdrawn.
The risks associated with this procedure are very small. They include:
- Discomfort or a little pain when the speculum is opened up and when the catheter is inserted. This risk may be combated with a mild sedative or anesthetic; however, many women don't feel they need this.
- Infection in the vagina, cervix or uterus (very rare).
- Bleeding in the vagina, cervix or uterus.
If you're worried about the risks involved in IVF procedures, you should ask your fertility specialists to discuss these risks with you and give you as much information as possible. The more you understand about what's going on in these procedures, the more in control you're likely to feel. You should also check out the credentials of the IVF clinic you are attending and inquire as to the level of experience of the doctors who'll be performing the egg retrieval and embryo transfer procedures.