Risks and complications of IVF egg donation

Before one decides to become an egg donor there are issues to consider related to the physical, psychological and emotional health. Although most of the medical donations are associated with some hazards – even donating blood could be dangerous if not done in proper conditions – egg donation however has its own quite different issues. Whilst donating a kidney or bone marrow could cause some physical trauma, egg donating could involve physiological and emotional trauma as well. Those risks are additionally reinforced by the fact that donating eggs is not a matter of life and death as in the cases of blood, kidney or marrow. It is however a matter of new life. From a medical and ethical standpoint this issue is very tricky because one person’s health is risked for another’s who isn’t in danger.

Below you’ll find risks and complications both physical and emotional which are involved when you decide to be a donor.

Physical risks


Providing donor eggs may be associated with several hazardous complications and unwanted side effects. Let’s start from the beginning which is injecting the fertility drugs. Those drugs can cause a lot of different reactions. The donor can suffer from headaches, allergic reactions, stomach pressure, weight gain and mood changes. However there are also more dangerous risks when taking fertility drugs. One of those risks would be the Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome of the ovaries. OHSS has a 5% of occurrence in each cycle. While most of the cases are mild, some can lead to serious illness and make severe injuries to the donor.
Hyper-stimulation in rare cases can cause the ovaries to become enlarged which could lead to developing blood clots because of the increased susceptibility in that state. In such cases hospitalization is a necessity. In even more rare cases it can also lead to fluid accumulation in the abdomen or lungs, kidney failures or even strokes. There is also a chance for the enlarged hyper-stimulated ovary to rupture but this is an extremely rare case and the chances are minimal. However when this happens surgery and general anesthesia is needed and with that there are additional risks of course. The donor could lose one or both ovaries. Also if the donor would decide not to undergo egg retrieval the chances of this to occur are higher. There are also unlikely chances for lasting effects like: pains, irregular menstruation cycles and impairment of future fertility. There have been suggestions of a link between fertility drugs and ovarian cancer but nothing was proven.

Another risk during the procedures of egg donation is the egg retrieval. The Ultrasound guided egg retrieval to be exact. Risks that could occur if there are complications include infections, bleeding and injuries to the bowel or blood vessels. In some cases, and again it is extremely rare, surgery is needed if it is necessary to repair damaged internal organs or to control the internal bleeding. For the egg to be retrieved anesthesia is needed, all the risks involved will be explained by the anesthesiologist. There are also some minor problems like allergies from antibiotics – still we should be careful, in some rare cases the allergies were severe. Also torsions can occur. The enlarged ovaries can cause strong abdominal pains.
Egg donation is a relatively new procedure and maybe in the future we will know about some more of the complications and long term risks involved.

The recipient

The physical risks on the recipient side are mostly dependent on the donor. While the recipient is not in a direct physical danger he could become a victim of a disease because of the donor. Those are however minimal risks almost non-existing. An example of such risk would be a situation where the donor is tested for HIV, the test comes out negative and the donor has the green light. However the donor can become infected with the HIV virus after the test and while the eggs are transferred to the recipient she becomes infected with the virus. This is however as it has been said already just a possibility with minimal risk. Furthermore more and more clinics require to make the tests one more time just a couple of days before the retrieval procedure so that makes it almost impossible to occur. Another thing is that sometimes the donors are being paid very handsomely for their eggs. This amount of money could attract dishonest people that want to abuse the donation system and get money while trying to pass the tests in some mischievous ways and again risk the health and wellbeing of the recipient. The clinics are of course aware that such people exists so the psychological evaluations are being done to seed out such persons from the donation program. In the internet era there are however ways to obtain such tests and learn what should and should not be said in this kind of psychological evaluation.
These issues should not discourage any potential recipient from undergoing egg donation procedure but knowing this makes the patient even more safe. A patient who is aware of that can calm herself by simply asking if a donor has been tested for HIV a few days before the retrieval or a month ago.

Other than that there is only the embryo transfer that entails no significant risk to the recipient. If the patient never had a baby there could be a small problem with transferring the embryo through the cervix. In such case there is a possibility to stretch the cervical canal but such interventions should be avoided if it is not required. In some rare cases the doctor could delay the transfer and freeze the embryos until the cervix is stretched.
There is also the risk of multiple birth if more than one embryo is transferred. If a multiple birth is absolutely out of the question there is an option of transferring only one embryo. This and everything else involving risks during the procedure can be talked through with the clinician.

Psychological and emotional risks

The question most frequently asked by recipient parents is what and when to tell the child that who was a ‘product’ of egg donation. It is said that it’s best to inform the child at the early age and later adding and adjusting details when the child gets older and is able to comprehend more of the procedure. A child conceived via IVF with donor eggs doesn’t face issues like the adopted children who happen to often have those issues . As a matter of fact children born via egg donation notice that their parents go extra miles just to complete their dreams of having a baby and they are able to appreciate it.

The emotional issues on the donor side are a little more complicated and of a different nature. Young donors in future life often struggle with issues of which they didn’t even think of when deciding to donate.  Sometimes issues occur years later when donors have children of their own. Stories can be found on the internet and in the papers about women who started to worry about the children that were born from their donated eggs after they gave birth themselves. Donors happen to worry not only about the fact they will not ever meet the children of their biological lineage but also sometimes they regret that their own children won’t get to know their “half-siblings”. On the other hand they sometimes are afraid of the possibility of her own child to meet his relative from the egg donation not knowing they share the same genes. They could become intimate with each other. It doesn’t really look like a thing likely to happen but such cases have occurred in the past. Egg donors can also find themselves thinking about the time when the offspring achieved by their eggs gets to know the truth about how they were born and if, how will they react? Will they think of “her”? Would they want to seek “her”? Those can be very troubling questions that most probably will forever stay unanswered.

Legal matters
Remember that legal regulations may vary in different countries. If you want to know about the legal regulations in a specific country check out our articles that are directly dealing with legal regulations.