For the millions of couples every year who struggle with infertility, in vitro fertilization (IVF) has changed the game. Now, from either the sperm and eggs of the couple or those of donors, thousands more children are born every year thanks to IVF.
Despite its increasingly common use and widespread support amongst experts, some have concerns about whether IVF is safe. Much of this concern stems from studies which have found increased risk for high blood pressure in women who undergo IVF treatment.
It is true that IVF can increase blood pressure, and this may be an important consideration in deciding whether it is the right treatment plan for you. However, it is important to remember that IVF is still largely considered safe, with benefits which may outweigh risks.
Let’s take a look at what IVF is, and what it isn’t.
IVF is more than just one procedure — it is a complex series of procedures that make up a treatment plan for conceiving a child. A full cycle of IVF usually takes about three weeks, but sometimes the different steps are split apart which lengthens the process. These steps include:
First, you’ll be treated with hormones that stimulate your ovaries to produce eggs. More than the usual one egg per month is needed for IVF because not all eggs will develop into healthy embryos when fertilized. Then, the eggs and sperm are retrieved — these are both outpatient procedures.
The eggs are fertilized in a lab, and monitored to see which ones develop into strong and healthy embryos. Then, after more hormone therapy, one or more embryos (IVF has been known to cause more instances of twins and triplets as a result of multiple embryo implants) is transferred to your uterus.
Around two weeks after embryo transfer, you’ll take a blood pregnancy test to see if your IVF treatment has worked!
IVF is the most effective form of ART, or assisted reproductive technology. As a result, it is one of the most commonly used treatments for those struggling with infertility. Your IVF provider can use your own eggs and sperm or those of a donor — a surrogate carrier can even be used.
Historically, there has been much anecdotal evidence and many smaller studies exploring the concept that women who undergo IVF procedures have a higher risk of high blood pressure. A larger study was recently conducted which may help researchers to understand how and when blood pressure can be affected by IVF procedures.
This study not only aimed to find whether a link existed, but also why. It was conducted by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. Researchers analyzed data from the national IVF registry of France, which includes data on over 70,000 pregnancies, delivered after 22 weeks gestation, from between 2013 and 2018.
They found that there is a higher risk of preeclampsia and hypertension — both conditions involving elevated blood pressure — in pregnancies created from frozen-thawed embryos. The risk of high blood pressure was even greater in treatments where the uterus was prepared for implantation with hormone replacement therapies. These results mirror those of other smaller studies.
The results of this study underscore two significant considerations for those undergoing, researching, and providing IVF: the potentially harmful effects of prolonged high doses of hormone replacement therapy, and the protection provided by a corpus luteum.
The corpus luteum is a cluster of cells in the ovary which forms during pregnancy and produces progesterone. This helps to maintain the uterine lining during pregnancy and improves blood flow. Its growth is suppressed by hormone replacement therapy, which may contribute significantly to the increased blood pressure risk.
If you’re worried about developing hypertension or preeclampsia as a result of undergoing IVF treatment, talk to your doctor. Those who are already at risk of dangerously elevated blood pressure especially should have that conversation with their physician or IVF provider.
However, generally speaking it is still safe to undergo IVF treatment. This is even true with frozen-thawed embryos. The use of frozen embryos for IVF treatment has increased in recent years, as it has been seen to be equally or more effective than fresh embryos.
In fact, the use of frozen embryos has some safety benefits, including reduction of the risk of hyperstimulation. Women experiencing ovarian hyperstimulation may have bloating, nausea, abdominal swelling, and even blood clots, dehydration, or vomiting. Therefore, the researchers of the French study say that benefits of using frozen embryos for IVF continue to outweigh the risks.
In vitro fertilization, or IVF, is a safe and effective procedure that helps many women get pregnant every year. During the process, an egg — either from the woman’s own ovary or from an egg donor — is fertilized outside of the body and implanted directly into the woman’s uterus.
This process often includes freezing and thawing the fertilized embryo, as well as treating the woman with hormones to prepare her body for pregnancy. Both of these factors have been found to raise the likelihood of preeclampsia and hypertension.
However, IVF is still largely considered safe, and the use of hormones and frozen embryos has benefits that experts say outweigh risks. IVF continues to be a healthy and dependable option for thousands of couples struggling with infertility every year.