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What you should know about egg freezing side effects

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What you should know about egg freezing side effects

March 14, 2017   |   Ask the Doctor, Studies Say, The Real Deal

The truth is that every body, and every medical procedure, is different. Not every woman has the exact same reaction to the medication used in egg freezing, or the exact same recovery time after the egg retrieval procedure, so it’s difficult to predict the exact egg freezing side effects a woman might experience (if any).

There are inherent, if highly unlikely, risks associated with taking any medication, or undergoing any medical procedure. The most important thing doctors can do—and what our healthcare team does day in and day out—is make sure patients are informed about all the potential egg freezing side effects and risks, however uncommon.

Most women don’t experience egg freezing side effects—and those they do experience are minor and short-lived.

Only about 1 in 4 of women taking egg freezing medications report side effects. The side effects experienced are typically a result of the hormonal fluctuations caused by the medication, and are similar to PMS symptoms like headaches, mood swings, insomnia, hot or cold flashes, breast tenderness, bloating, or mild fluid retention. Additionally, because most of the medications used in egg freezing are given by injection, the injection site could become sore, red, or slightly bruised. (Switching up the injection site throughout the process can help with that.)

For most women, that’s the extent of the egg freezing side effects they experience (if they experience any at all). And the side effects of the medication only last for the 8–11 days the medication is taken—they’re not long term.

The majority of women bounce back quickly after an egg freezing cycle.

The egg freezing cycle ends with an egg retrieval procedure, in which the doctor removes the eggs and sends them into the lab for freezing. The egg retrieval is an outpatient procedure, meaning you come in and go home within a couple of hours (no hospital overnights!). The procedure itself takes only 15–20 minutes, and doesn’t require cuts or stitches—a super thin needle is inserted through the vaginal wall and into the ovaries, where the eggs are waiting. It’s what doctors like to call “minimally invasive.”

While the procedure does require you to be “under,” it’s not the general anesthesia used in some more invasive surgeries; it’s a propofol-based sedation medication sometimes called “twilight” anesthesia that carries almost no risk of complications and doesn’t require a breathing tube. Still, you’ll probably feel groggy afterwards, and you’ll need a responsible adult (think: your older sister or most put-together friend) to escort you home.

You may experience some pain when you wake up, like a little soreness in the vaginal area or some abdominal cramping, like how you feel when you’re getting your period. But it’s rare that any egg freezing side effects last longer than a few days after the procedure. Most women are back to work the next day (but if you want to take a few days off to catch up on your Netflix queue, we’re not judging).

The chance of serious egg freezing side effects is very low.

Occasionally, egg freezing medications can get the ovaries working too hard, resulting in what we call “ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome” or OHSS. OHSS is associated with swollen, enlarged ovaries and the collection of fluid in the abdominal cavity. In less than 5% of cases, OHSS can require monitoring or bedrest for a few days; in extreme cases (less than 1% of women taking these medications) OHSS can cause medical complications, like ovarian torsion, that might require surgery.

The good news is that, while the chances of serious egg freezing side effects like OHSS are very small, the healthcare team takes them seriously. Every woman who freezes her eggs is carefully monitored throughout the process; if you show any signs of developing serious egg freezing side effects, your doctor will take steps to prevent them.

Chance of egg freezing risks and side effects

There’s no evidence of long-term health impacts after egg freezing.

Researchers have been testing fertility technologies for decades, and there’s no evidence of long-term egg freezing side effects for either women or their potential future offspring. A few notes:

  • After the egg freezing cycle ends, your menstrual cycle should return to normal, and any soreness from the egg retrieval should fade within a few days.
  • An extensive and comprehensive study published last summer found no increase in cases of breast cancer among women who had taken fertility medications, and similar studies have found no increase in other types of cancer, either.
  • Freezing eggs now won’t reduce your fertility in the future, because if you didn’t freeze these eggs, you’d still lose them in the natural process of monthly egg loss. (Learn more.)
  • And, importantly, after extensive research, researchers have concluded there’s no difference in the risk of birth defects, chromosomal anomalies, or pregnancy complications when using frozen eggs or embryos as compared to fresh eggs or embryos.

Bottom line: you’ll be fully informed about any potential egg freezing side effects, each step of the way—but it’s a generally safe procedure.

This is a general overview of egg freezing side effects; there may be other egg freezing risks, specific to you and your health, that we haven’t included here. Our healthcare team is super focused on transparency, so they’ll give you the most accurate and personalized information possible about egg freezing side effects or procedure-related risks at every step in the process.

Rest assured, though, that for healthy women, egg freezing doesn’t carry a high risk of complications, and is considered safe and effective.

Do you have further questions about egg freezing side effects? Reach out to a fertility advisor to get them answered!


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