Is Egg Donation Dangerous? – Health Risks & Side Effects for Donors

By BSc, MSc (embryologist) and BA, MA (fertility counselor).
Last Update: 06/13/2017

Donating eggs has certain risks and side effects that one should keep in mind from beginning to end. Before making the final decision, potential oocyte donors should consider the whole set of advantages and disadvantages involved, and be fully aware of the dangers and consequences that could arise either in the short term or longer term.

Dangers of egg donation

One of the most common questions raised by women who are considering donating eggs is whether it is dangerous. In order to understand the risks and side effects that might be involved, one should know which procedures candidates go through to donate their ovarian eggs:

Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS)
hormone therapy that is necessary for triggering the production of multiple egg cells simultaneously.
Egg retrieval
medical procedure to collect mature oocytes from the ovary.

The risks derived from the egg donation process are usually mild and unusual, but cannot be overlooked, as in some cases they may turn out to be a concerning issue. This is the reason why having as many information as possible is material to make informed decisions.

Effects of hormone injections

Donors have to self-administer fertility medications through subcutaneous injections. They contain hormones that may lead the woman to develop certain short-term side effects as it happens with any other kind of medication.

The most common side effects include:

  • Bruising at the injection site
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Temporary weight gain
  • Leg swelling
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling of pressure by the ovaries
  • Vaginal dryness

These side effects, which can be seen in the top right of the image, are quite similar to the normal mild discomforts and symptoms of menstruation. Allergy to medications is another side effect, although it occurs rarely.

Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)

Frequently, egg donors are good responders to ovarian medications, since they have a greater concentration of hCG receptors and a great number of ovarian follicles. This makes it necessary for the specialist to carefully monitor the medications taken by the donor as a way of preventing the development of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).

This is probably the greater risk donors face when taking drugs for ovarian stimulation. However, less than 4% of potential egg donors develop OHSS, as ovulation induction is milder than in the case of IVF patients.

OHSS is an exaggerated response to the use of medications to induce ovulation. If it develops, the ovaries become swollen and fluid leaks into the belly and breast areas. The consequences of OHSS can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the symptoms the woman develops.

The most frequent mild-to-moderate side effects of OHSS include:

  • Bloating
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea

Severe OHSS could damage the donor's ovaries or even lead her to suffer from shortness of breath. Also, the renal and cardiovascular functions might be compromised. Should a donor have a symptom picture which includes common OHSS side effects, she should receive medical treatment as soon as possible.

Can OHSS be prevented?

The best way to avoid the ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) is by performing a comprehensive evaluation to see the chances for developing it of each donor.

For instance, if an egg donor has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), she is more likely to develop OHSS as a side effect of hormone medications. That is the reason why it is important to individualize each ovarian stimulation protocol to each patient, including egg donors.

In addition to avoiding very high-dose hormone therapies, monitoring the cycle during the stimulation phase is essential to prevent OHSS. Serum levels of estrogens as well as the number of follicles should be evaluated, as the higher they are, the higher the chances for developing OHSS.

The likelihood of developing OHSS can be reduced by following ovulation protocols that do not require the administration of hCG to induce ovulation, as hCG is the hormone that triggers such symptoms.

To this purpose, GnRH antagonists are the type of GnRH analogues commonly used to prevent ovulation from taking place spontaneously. By following this protocol, agonists can be used to induce ovulation and they, contrary to what happens with hCG, do not aggravate the symptoms derived from OHSS.

If you are noticing common symptoms of OHSS, your doctor will reduce the dosage or cancel the cycle of egg donation to prevent further medical complications and health risks.

It should be noted that the most severe complications derived from OHSS appear during pregnancy. For this reason, in the case of egg donors, severe symptoms are uncommon provided that it is diagnosed early, which means the chances for a cycle to be cancelled are lower as well. Also, egg donors are recommended not to have unprotected sexual intercourse if they are not planning to get pregnant, as it would trigger and make the symptoms of OHSS worse, especially if the woman gets pregnant with multiples.

Risks associated with egg retrieval

Egg retrieval is done by the transvaginal ultrasound-guided method, aided by an aspirating needle. The patient is given a general anesthetic, so that she does not feel any pain.

It is a minimally invasive and efficient procedure subject to an insignificant risk of developing complications. Side effects, however, are likely to appear as in any other surgical procedure.

Bleeding is the most frequent complication derived from follicle puncture. In most cases, it is just a slight vaginal bleeding. Secondly, as any other surgical intervention, egg retrieval carries with it the risk of infections, and the anesthesia administered might lead to certain complications such as allergies.

Ovarian torsion is a rare side effect derived from egg harvesting, which may occur during egg collection if the ovaries are too mobile.

If you need more information about egg retrieval, we recommend that you read the following article: Ovum pick-up procedure for egg donation.

Psychological effects

One should not forget either that egg donation involves a series of psychological effects that should be kept in mind.

Donating eggs is an altruistic act above all that aims to help other women become mothers, while at the same time the donor feels fulfilled.

However, it should be clear that, once a woman has donated her egg cells, there is no coming back. This means that, even if an egg donor ends up regretting what she has done, she will not be able to cancel the process once she has been matched with a recipient and the IVF procedure has started.

Although it is true that egg donors have to go through a psychological evaluation before being accepted in the donation program, analyzing the long-term psychological consequences of donating eggs is difficult.

For this reason, prospective egg donors have to be properly informed before going one step further in the donation process. Learning what is involved as well as being fully aware of both the short- and long-term consequences that may arise before making up their minds is crucial.

Learning more about the fate of the donated eggs can help comprehend what the process is all about more deeply. For this reason, if you are considering donating eggs, we recommend that you read this post, where you will find information about the donor-egg IVF process step by step: How does IVF with donor eggs work?

Candidates are recommended not to make the decision hastily, especially if they have not considered the pros and cons of egg donation yet, both at the psychological and the physiological levels. The aim is to minimize the chances of regretting it in the future.

Last but not least, it should be taken into account that the risks of egg donation are minimal and infrequent today thanks to the advancements made in the field of assisted reproductive technology over the past few years. Be it as it may, one should be fully aware of the whole set of risks before applying to become an egg donor.

FAQs from users

Can egg donation cause cancer?

By Zaira Salvador BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Several studies show that ovulation induction does not increase the risk of suffering from breast, ovarian, endometrial, or cervical cancer. Nor has it been shown that it leads to the development of endocrine tumors started in the hormone-producing cells.

Still, if the woman was already developing a cancer, drugs to induce ovulation during egg donation can the process in the case of hormone-dependent tumors.

What are the long-term side effects of egg donation?

By Zaira Salvador BSc, MSc (embryologist).

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?

By Zaira Salvador BSc, MSc (embryologist).

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.

Suggested for you

Before donating eggs, we recommend that you learn what the process is all about in detail. For this reason, you are invited to visit the following article: Step-by-step guide to becoming an egg donor.

However, even if you are aware of the risks involved and are prepared to go through this process, you should know that there exist certain requirements that have to be met before being accepted as a donor. We recommend that you read this post to delve deeper into them: Requirements to donate egg cells.

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 Zaira Salvador
Zaira Salvador
BSc, MSc
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Technical University of Valencia (UPV). Biotechnology Degree from the National University of Ireland en Galway (NUIG) and embryologist specializing in Assisted Reproduction, with a Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV) and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI) More information about Zaira Salvador
License: 3185-CV
Adapted into english by:
 Sandra Fernández
Sandra Fernández
Fertility Counselor
Bachelor of Arts in Translation and Interpreting (English, Spanish, Catalan, German) from the University of Valencia (UV) and Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton Campus (Edinburgh, UK). Postgraduate Course in Legal Translation from the University of Valencia. Specialist in Medical Translation, with several years of experience in the field of Assisted Reproduction. More information about Sandra Fernández

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