Many women have concerns about the health and safety of egg donation and I am here to clear up some of the untruths you may come across on the internet. Egg donation has both known and potential risks – Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) is the only known risk and is reported to be approximately 1% to 2% per retrieval cycle. Egg donors may, in fact, see a lower occurrence because this group of women is not conceiving after taking the stimulation hormones1. OHSS has been shown to decrease further with the use of GnRH agonist medication for the final stage of egg maturation rather than administering the traditional hCG medication1. OHSS is a risk inherent to egg donation and the frequent monitoring appointments during the stimulation phase are imperative to reduce the risk of occurrence. Following the doctor’s orders and showing up to appointments as scheduled are important parts in your journey as an egg donor.
Potential Risks – Acute Risks from the Egg Retrieval Procedure
Infection is seen in less than 0.1% of egg retrievals2. Bacteria already found in the vagina may be inadvertently transferred into the abdominal cavity by the needle that removes the eggs from the ovaries2. Antibiotics are sometimes used before the egg retrieval procedure to reduce the risk of pelvic or abdominal infection but there is no way to eliminate this risk completely2.
Major bleeding problems are very rare following the egg retrieval and have an occurrence of less than 0.1% also2. Some women experience minimal spotting after the procedure is completed but this is common with no needed treatment.
Trauma to surrounding organs is very low but medical literature has noted damage to the bowel, appendix, bladders, ureters, and ovary2. If damage does occur, treatment can include surgery for repair or removal of the damaged organ2. The likelihood of trauma to your internal organs is so low that a percentage is unavailable. Ovarian torsion is seen in less than 1% of the time2 – torsion is when the ovary twists on itself, cutting off its own blood supply. Surgery is required to untwist or even remove it2. It is scary to think that you can lose an organ as a complication of egg donation but full disclosure and informed consent is our goal here at Fertility Source Companies.
Anesthesia is used in low levels during egg retrieval and should see very low risks for healthy young women. The use of anesthesia can have unintended complications such as allergic reaction, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, respiratory distress, nausea or vomiting, and in rare cases, death2. These side effects are true for the general population and not specifically for women undergoing egg retrievals.
The chart below from The Journal of the American Medical Association shows a summary of 11 years of egg donor complications data3. One example to point out is the occurrence of OHSS and Severe OHSS – the study had 112,254 total egg donor cycles from 2000 to 2011 and a total of 331 cases of both OHSS (271) and Severe OHSS (60). This puts the occurrence of both scenarios at 0.2% in this study specifically for egg donors. The study seems to be the first one to quantify these risks in the U.S. and the results are reassuring for women considering egg donation.
Cancer Risks – No Associations Found
There continues to be concern of the link between certain cancers and the use of fertility hormones. The prevailing data available does not demonstrate an association between the use of ovulation-inducing agents and cancer, in particular, ovarian and breast cancer1. It is important to remember that ovarian, breast, and uterine cancers are more common in women with infertility so if a woman was to take fertility hormones to become pregnant, she already has an increased risk of having cancer. Infertility is very complex and can be caused by a myriad of reasons, which is why there has yet to be a direct link between the fertility hormones being the sole cause of cancer.
Does Egg Donation Affect My Ability to Have Children?
Short answer: No. It is true that a woman is born with a finite number of eggs, meaning we are born with all of the eggs that we will ever have. At birth, females have about one to two million immature eggs called follicles. By puberty there are about 400,000 follicles remaining – with each menstrual cycle, a thousand follicles are lost and only one of them will actually mature into an egg for ovulation. Egg donation does not make you run out of eggs sooner because the follicles induced to grow into eggs through the fertility hormones are already “linked” to the menstrual cycle and would have been lost anyway had they not been asked to grow2. AMH helps determine if a woman’s ovaries have the ability to produce an adequate number of eggs for donation.
We understand that egg donation poses some questions that cannot be answered with 100% certainty. Naturally, this uncertainty may deter some women from being an egg donor but being able to make an informed decision is our goal for those of you considering helping people become families through this incredible journey. Our job is to stay on top of the research as it becomes available and impart that knowledge to better serve our community. Thank you for reading more about the health and safety of egg donation with Fertility Source Companies. We invite you to learn more about us by calling, emailing, or perusing our website.
This article composed by Missi Lockwood, Fertility Source Companies Director of Donor Recruitment.