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What’s All the Hype about Ovarian Hyperstimulation? The Safety of High-Dose Hormones Used in IVF

A recent New York Times article shares the story of Debra Demidon, who developed severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) after undergoing IVF. This potentially life-threatening condition caused her to gain more than 30 pounds of fluid and have trouble breathing, and ultimately landed her in the hospital for 5 days. OHSS is much more common in the US and UK than in Europe and Japan because the former countries rely on high-dose hormones for IVF where the latter countries use lose-dose hormones. Although rare, OHSS following high-dose hormone IVF is now one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in parts of the UK. OHSS is not the only adverse side effect of high-dose IVF for women; there are myriad other possible side effects including increased cancer risk, memory loss, and liver disorders.  Furthermore, there can also be increased risk for children born from high-dose IVF, such as low birth rate.

Knowing these serious potential health-related outcomes, why is high-dose IVF the dominant and default method used in the US? The main reason is that high-dose IVF produces many more eggs (often 20-30 eggs and sometimes even more) than low-dose IVF produce (8-10 eggs). Given that most insurance companies do not cover infertility treatments (only 15 states have laws mandating insurance companies to cover infertility treatments and there are many exemptions and caveats), many people pay out of pocket for IVF. In order to save money – IVF costs $15,000 – $30,000 a cycle – people are often willing to increase their risks to themselves (choosing high-dose IVF or low-dose IVF) if it means they’re likely to generate more eggs. Individuals in time pressure situations who may only have one shot at gathering eggs, such as cancer patients wanting to preserve their fertility before undergoing treatments that will hopefully save their lives but may render them infertile, may also opt for high-dose IVF…Read the rest of this article on the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute at Albany Medical Center.

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