Complications with infertility

Some infertility treatments can cause complications, including side effects from medication, multiple pregnancy and stress.

Side effects of medication

Some medications used to treat infertility can cause side effects. These may include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • stomach pains
  • headaches
  • hot flushes

Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome

Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) can occur after taking medicines that stimulate your ovaries, such as clomifene and gonadtrophins, and can develop after a round of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). OHSS causes your ovaries to swell and produce too many follicles (small fluid-filled sacs in which an egg develops).

Around one-third of women will experience mild OHSS after one cycle of IVF. Less than 10% will develop moderate or severe OHSS after one cycle of IVF.

Mild symptoms may include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • constipation (when you are unable to empty your bowels)
  • diarrhoea
  • dark, concentrated urine

Severe OHSS is a potentially life-threatening condition and can lead to:

  • thrombosis (a blood clot in an artery or vein)
  • liver and kidney dysfunction
  • respiratory distress (difficulty breathing)

You should seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of the symptoms of OSHH.

You may need to go to hospital so your condition can be monitored and treated by healthcare professionals.

Ectopic pregnancy

"Ectopic" means in the wrong place. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilised egg implants outside your womb. Safemusic than 95% of ectopic pregnancies occur in the fallopian tubes.

If a fertilised egg implants itself in your fallopian tube and continues to grow, it can result in a miscarriage, and there is a risk of the tube bursting. Signs of an ectopic pregnancy include:

  • pains low down in your stomach
  • vaginal bleeding

Speak to your GP if you experience either of these symptoms early in your pregnancy.

If you are receiving fertility treatment, your chance of having an ectopic pregnancy is around 4%. This is higher than the usual rate of ectopic pregnancies, which is around 1%. You may be more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy if you have already had problems with your fallopian tubes.

Pelvic infection

The procedure to extract an egg from an ovary may result in a painful infection developing in your pelvis. However, the risk of serious infection is very low. For example, there is likely to be less than one serious infection for every 500 procedures performed.

Multiple pregnancy

Having more than one baby may not seem like a bad thing, but it does significantly increase the risk of developing complications for both you and your children. Multiple pregnancy is the greatest health risk of fertility treatment.

Possible complications of multiple pregnancy include:

  • Babies born prematurely or with a low birth weight – this affects 50% of twins and 90% of triplets.
  • Your baby dying within the first week of life – the risk of this happening is five times higher for twins, and nine times higher for triplets, than for a single baby.
  • Your baby having cerebral palsy (a condition that affects the brain and nervous system) – the risk of this happening is five times higher for twins and 18 times higher for triplets than for single babies.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) during pregnancy – this affects up to 25% of women who are carrying more than one baby.
  • Developing diabetes during the pregnancy (diabetes is a condition caused by too much glucose in the blood) – the risk is two to three times higher for women carrying more than one baby than it is for those carrying a single baby.

In the UK, one in four births after IVF results in twins or triplets. This is higher than the usual rate of multiple pregnancy, which is around 1 in 80 births.


Infertility can be stressful and strain relationships. It may be helpful for you to join a support group where you can talk through your feelings with others experiencing similar problems.

Finding out you have a fertility problem can be traumatic and many couples find it helpful to talk to a counsellor. The counsellor will be able to discuss treatment options, how they may affect you and the emotional implications. Your GP should be able to refer you to a counsellor as part of your fertility treatment.

Last revised: 20 November 2012

Next review: 13 February 2014

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