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The risks of egg donation

Egg donation risks are minimal for donors, but it’s still worth knowing what’s involved. Find out more about risks in this guide.

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Written by Apricity Team

Altruistic egg donation is a wonderful, generous, and selfless act. Egg donation can really change a life; give hope to those who have none and offer a precious, life-changing gift that will help make another family complete. If you are considering becoming an egg donor, it's important to make a fully informed decision. Part of this is being aware of any egg donation risks that you may encounter as a donor.

As you probably know, all types of medical treatments and procedures have some risks. However, the risks associated with egg donation are very low. To learn more about egg donation risks, keep reading.

How does egg donation work?

The fertility treatment side of donating your eggs involves similar steps to the first stage of an IVF cycle.

After undergoing medical screening to ensure you are suitable for egg donation, you would take fertility medication which stimulates your ovaries to produce multiple eggs. You would be monitored via ultrasound scan every few days to ensure that everything is progressing as expected.

After around 10-14 days, you’d administer the last injection, also known as a trigger shot that induces the final maturation of your eggs. Your eggs will be collected in a procedure called egg collection 36-40 hours later. As an egg donor, your part finishes here for now.

On the other side of egg collection, your eggs will likely be mixed with sperm for fertilisation. Hopefully, healthy embryos will form, and one can be transferred to someone who would really love to have a child. Around two weeks later, they will know if they are pregnant or not.

Egg donation risks

In a nutshell, egg donation risks are minimal for donors. However, as with all types of medical treatments and procedures, there are some risks to be aware of:

Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS)

OHSS (Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome) is an exaggerated hormonal response to fertility medication. It can happen in any treatment using stimulation drugs, including IVF, and donating eggs. Some women respond very sensitively to fertility drugs and produce many follicles. This causes the ovaries to enlarge and hormone levels to rise, sometimes causing Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome. As an egg donor, you will be briefed on the symptoms of OHSS and monitored closely to reduce the chance of it happening.

Mild OHSS is common, affecting around one-third of women undergoing IVF, and is usually nothing to worry about. Mild OHSS can cause mild abdominal swelling, discomfort, and nausea, and can be treated at home with paracetamol.

In very rare cases (around 1% of cases), women experience moderate to severe OHSS. The risk is higher in women who have polycystic ovaries, have had OHSS in the past, are under 30 and who are pregnant as a result of the IVF cycle (particularly with multiple births). The latter does not apply to egg donors since pregnancy is not the aim. Moderate OHSS also brings abdominal swelling, but the swelling is usually worse and can cause pain and vomiting. Symptoms of severe OHSS include extreme thirst and dehydration. Women with severe OHSS may only be able to pass small amounts of urine or have difficulty breathing, which requires admission into hospital. Although extremely rare, OHSS can become life-threatening if untreated (usually due to thromboembolic complications), so you’ll be briefed thoroughly on the symptoms to know about.

Women perceived to be at a higher risk of ovarian hyperstimulation (such as those with polycystic ovarian syndrome, PCOS) may need more scans. For the other risk factors, egg donors are also monitored frequently, and medication is tailored to reduce the risk of OHSS.

Pelvic Infection

Pelvic infection can, very rarely, follow an egg collection. Every effort is made to try to prevent this. This is why collection is done in extremely clean conditions and antibiotics are given to women at higher risk of infection. Since it is not possible to sterilise the vagina, where there is always some bacteria, a swab is taken at the outset, and if there is any sign of infection then antibiotics may be given to minimise any risk.

Other complications

There is a very small risk that the needle used for egg collection can puncture the bladder, bowel, or blood vessels. However, the needle used is so fine that it is unusual to have any complications. Any instances of vaginal bleeding can usually be stopped at the end of egg collection by applying pressure. If there is a concern that a tiny hole has been made, antibiotics will be given.

Does donating eggs decrease fertility?

This is one of the biggest egg donation myths there is. Donating eggs is unlikely to affect your fertility or interfere with any future plans to start a family. However, fertility screening tests might flag any existing fertility issues you have.

Each ovary contains thousands of eggs. During the egg donation process, you will only donate about the same number of eggs as you would naturally lose during that month's cycle.  So as a result, your number of eggs will be unaffected by the egg donation process.

When you have your initial screening appointment at the clinic, if your doctor considers you to be at risk in any way or your fertility could be affected, then egg donation would not be recommended.

Does donating eggs cause AMH to drop or early menopause?

This is another of the most frequently asked questions about egg donation. Studies show that the Anti-Müllerian Hormone (AMH) level does not drop with repeated stimulation cycles, suggesting that it does not bring on early menopause.

That said, the response to treatment may help to predict an early or late menopause. For example, if you have a poor response to certain medication, it could potentially indicate an early menopause.

One of the supplementary benefits of egg donation – on top of changing someone's life – is that you will discover a lot about your fertility. Plenty of past donors were surprised about how much they learned about their own fertility through donating eggs.

Does donating eggs cause cancer?

There is no evidence that fertility treatment (such as donating eggs) significantly increases the risk of breast, ovarian, endometrial, or cervical cancer. It may even reduce the incidence of cervical cancer.

Donating eggs is an incredible, selfless act that gives hope to the thousands of people in the UK who can’t conceive naturally. Donating eggs in the UK is considered very safe, and the medical screening involved before you donate will flag any issues which would render the donation unsafe for you. In other words, if it looks like there are higher risks associated with your donation, you would be advised not to continue. Donor safety is paramount.

It is incredibly important that you feel completely comfortable with the decision that you are making. Should you have any questions or concerns, feel free to get in touch with us anytime. You can also join Miracle Makers, which is our free online community for egg donors. If you think you could help someone with the altruistic act of egg donation in the UK, register your interest in donating eggs.

Written by Apricity Team

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