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

By (embryologist), MD (gynecologist), BSc, MSc (embryologist) and (invitra staff).
Last Update: 11/30/2020

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.

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.
  • Fatigue.

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.
  • Dizziness.
  • Vomiting.
  • Weakness.
  • 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?

By Sergio Rogel Cayetano MD (gynecologist).

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.

Therefore, IVF and egg donation do not cause menopause to occur earlier, in the same way that taking contraceptives does not cause it to appear later.

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.

Does donating eggs hurt?

By Zaira Salvador BSc, MSc (embryologist).

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?

Suggested for you

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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References

Authors and contributors

 Marta Barranquero Gómez
Marta Barranquero Gómez
Embryologist
Graduated in Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences by the University of Valencia (UV) and specialized in Assisted Reproduction by the University of Alcalá de Henares (UAH) in collaboration with Ginefiv and in Clinical Genetics by the University of Alcalá de Henares (UAH). More information about Marta Barranquero Gómez
License: 3316-CV
 Sergio Rogel Cayetano
Sergio Rogel Cayetano
MD
Gynecologist
Bachelor's Degree in Medicine from the Miguel Hernández University of Elche. Specialist in Obstetrics & Gynecology via M. I. R. at Hospital General de Alicante. He become an expert in Reproductive Medicine by working at different clinics of Alicante and Murcia, in Spain, until he joined the medical team of IVF Spain back in 2011. More information about Sergio Rogel Cayetano
License: 03-0309100
 Zaira Salvador
Zaira Salvador
BSc, MSc
Embryologist
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:
 Romina Packan
Romina Packan
inviTRA Staff
Editor and translator for the English and German edition of inviTRA. More information about Romina Packan

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