When a woman decides to donate her eggs so that another woman with fertility problems can achieve a pregnancy, she goes through two stages that may involve some risk:
- Ovarian stimulation
- the donor receives hormonal medication to exogenously activate the production and maturation of eggs in the ovary.
- Follicular puncture
- consists of a simple procedure for the extraction of the eggs which is the end of the whole donation process.
Both procedures are safe, although they have certain effects that could lead to harmful consequences for the donor. Therefore, the process of egg donation may cause discomfort for the donor.
Provided below is an index with the 8 points we are going to expand on in this article.
Slight risks of donating eggs
Normally, the symptoms felt by the donor from the administration of the hormone medication are minimal and similar to those during menstruation or slightly more intense.
This ovarian stimulation medication is self-administered by the donor herself via subcutaneous injections into the abdomen. The most common side effects are as follows:
- Mood swings.
- Slight swelling and/or discomfort in the abdominal area from the punctures.
- Increased body volume.
- Heavy legs.
- Vaginal dryness.
On the other hand, the follicular puncture is a short surgical intervention performed under sedation. There are no special risks beyond those of the anesthesia received. It is carried out to obtain the eggs from the egg donor.
Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome
One of the dangers of egg donation is suffering from ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) as a result of hormone medication. This is the most serious side effect due to the discomfort it causes in the body.
OHSS occurs when the hormone medication does not work as expected or when the donor's body responds more intensively than it should, resulting in the development of many more follicles in the ovary than expected.
The injection of the hormone hCG to trigger ovulation before the follicular puncture is what produces ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. For this reason, it is necessary to cancel the egg donation cycle if there is a suspicion or risk of suffering from it.
The increased response of the ovary causes increased permeability of blood vessels leading to the extravasation of fluids out of the bloodstream, which can compromise the function of the liver, hematological, renal and respiratory systems. Therefore, OHSS can become potentially serious in the most severe cases.
The most moderate symptoms that the egg donor may feel when suffering from OHSS are:
- Severe headaches.
- Increased ovarian volume.
- Ascites- fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity.
- Acute abdominal and lower back pain.
This discomfort in women caused by OHSS disappears once their menstruation sets in. The ovaries recover their normal size and the free fluid is reabsorbed, which reduces the swelling.
It should be noted that OHSS occurs only occasionally when donating eggs, since medication controls and ultrasound scans to determine the ovarian response in donors are very rigorous. In addition, it is possible to prevent OHSS by replacing the use of hCG to trigger ovulation with GnRH or recombinant LH analogues.
In short, OHSS is very rare and can be avoided in case of suspicion. Generally speaking, only 4% of the patients who come to fertility clinics for treatment suffer from it.
Risks of egg retrieval
In order to capture the eggs that have matured in the donor's ovaries, it is necessary to perform a follicular puncture. This is a very simple surgical operation for the gynecologist.
A suction needle is inserted through the vagina and into the ovary. The inside of the ovarian follicles is then aspirated with the help of an ultrasound machine. The patient is sedated throughout the process so that she does not feel any pain.
The possible complications that can arise from this intervention are very few and, in general, of minimal risk. During the days following the puncture, the donor may have slight vaginal spotting. Another disadvantage of going through the operating room in this case is the risk of bacterial or fungal infection in the female reproductive tract.
Tips for donors
At the beginning of the egg donation process, it is normal to have many doubts and contrary thoughts. It is very important that a specialist discusses the possible advantages and disadvantages of donation and resolves all the concerns of the future donor.
Once hormone stimulation begins, it is critical that the donor inform the medical staff of the symptoms she is experiencing as the treatment progresses.
The donation process must be initiated with absolute conviction and decision on the part of the donor.
Information can prevent serious consequences such as the development of OHSS. For this reason, professionals insist that donors come to the clinic in case of any serious symptoms or intense discomfort.
In the case of suspected OHSS or any other disturbance, the cycle will simply be canceled and can be started again later.
FAQs from users
Can egg donation harm the donor's fertility?
The answer is no. To understand this, another concept must be introduced, the incessant ovarian cycle. This cycle accompanies the woman throughout her life, even before she has her period. About three months before the 14-day cycle that we all know as the menstrual cycle begins, the woman activates some of the thousands of microscopic follicles that are dormant in her ovary (primordial follicles). These activated follicles become the so-called antral follicles, which will be the protagonists of a fierce fight for ovulation.
Through ovarian stimulation, all or almost all antral follicles are stimulated so that they are capable of reaching maturity and being extracted by puncture. All these oocytes except one would have been attracted in a natural cycle.
Does egg donation decrease a woman's fertility period?
Egg donation does not diminish a woman's fertility. A woman is born with a defined number of eggs that will be lost with each cycle, becoming useful only a few, which are those that reach maturity and the rest are eliminated naturally.
In each menstrual cycle of a fertile woman only one egg matures (sometimes more), with respect to a number of oocytes (10-20) that would naturally degenerate. What is treated with an egg donation treatment is to stimulate the donor's ovaries with hormonal medication, so that more follicles grow and thus maturation occurs in a greater number of oocytes that would otherwise be lost because they would suffer atresia.
Therefore, by recovering those oocytes that would be naturally eliminated, we are not affecting the fertility of women who want to donate eggs or their ovarian reserve.
Is it dangerous to donate eggs?
Egg donation is a process that requires the administration of hormonal medication to the future donor, as well as the passage through the operating room for egg retrieval. Therefore, there are a number of risks before and after egg donation, which are detailed in this post.
It is not dangerous to the point of serious health consequences, but it is important for the donor to be aware of possible symptoms in order to avoid the development of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.
What are the long-term side effects of egg donation?
It should be kept in mind that egg donation is a relatively new treatment, and that is why its long-term side effects are not well known yet. Studies to analyze the negative effects in women who donated eggs in an earlier stage have not been conducted to date.
For these reasons, a vast majority of the side effects usually linked to egg donation are those that have been detected in women who underwent an IVF cycle in the past.
Some researchers associate hormone medications with a greater risk of developing uterine cancer. However, as stated earlier, there exists no conclusive study that confirms or refutes the truthfulness of this association.
What are my benefits as egg donor?
Most people see egg donation as a way to earn extra money. However, what you receive is financial compensation for the inconvenience and possible risks. The greatest satisfaction a donor feels after completing the whole process is that of having helped someone else have a child.
Does donating eggs hurt?
Egg donation is painless because it is performed under anesthesia in the operating room. However, the woman may have some discomfort due to the hormonal medication administered during ovarian stimulation, such as abdominal swelling, bruising at the injection site, fatigue, etc.
Find more about symptoms and side effects of egg donation here: What are the potential risks of egg donation?
If you are worried about suffering from ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, read on how to avoid it here: What is ovarian hyperstimulation and how can it be cured?
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Ballesteros A, Castilla JA, Nadal J, Ruiz M. Manifiesto de la SEF sobre la donación de gametos en España. Publicado a través de la Sociedad Española de Fertilidad (SEF).
Matorras R, Hernández J (eds). Estudio y tratamiento de la pareja estéril: Recomendaciones de la Sociedad Española de Fertilidad, con la colaboración de la Asociación Española para el Estudio de la Biología de la Reproducción, de la Asociación Española de Andrología y de la Sociedad Española de Contracepción. Adalia, Madrid 2007.
Uroz V, Guerra L. Donation of eggs in assisted reproduction and informed consent. Med Law. 2009 Sep;28(3):565-75.
FAQs from users: 'Can egg donation harm the donor's fertility?', 'Does egg donation decrease a woman's fertility period?', 'Is it dangerous to donate eggs?', 'Can egg donation cause cancer?', 'What are the long-term side effects of egg donation?', 'What are my benefits as egg donor?' and 'Does donating eggs hurt?'.
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