The unexpected risks of multiple IVF treatments

Two recent articles profiled the stories of women who went into early menopause after undergoing multiple IVF treatments, raising the question: can multiple IVF cycles actually cause early menopause?

Helen Burke, 39, tried to conceive a baby since she was 22, and underwent 10 failed rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Fifteen years later, at age 37, Helen started early menopause, which meant that she no longer had any hope of having a child. She said this came as a shock given that when people talk about IVF, they usually only talk about the success stories:

“We don’t hear about women that pregnancy doesn’t happen for, we only hear about the miracles cases – the ones where it works.”

Actor Alex Kingston, known for her roles on ER and Dr. Who, underwent 13 rounds of IVF before giving birth to her daughter. Like Helen Burke, Alex started menopause early, and wonders if it may have been linked to the hormones she took when she went through multiple rounds of IVF. Alex believes that she wasn’t fully informed, or didn’t fully understand the risks of the powerful hormones that are used with each IVF treatment.

“There are things that I think aren’t fully explained to women when they are going through all of that. It [the IVF] was very tough. You are so desperate. You don’t really understand what the side-effects can be.” 

According to Marilyn Glenville, the United Kingdom’s leading nutritionist in women’s health, 1-4% of women in the population at large experience early menopause, also called premature ovarian failure. In most cases, there isn’t a medical reason, although family history is implicated in some cases of early menopause. Glenville says that IVF does not deplete a woman’s ovarian reserve (number of eggs), and questions whether women who need to seek repeated rounds of IVF already have a lower ovarian reserve, which may account for experiencing an early menopause:

“Obviously going through IVF puts a woman’s body on a roller coaster of hormone fluctuations and a woman may become more sensitive to those hormone changes and so register the symptoms of the perimenopause sooner than another woman…But it may also be that the woman who is going for IVF has a lower ovarian reserve anyway and that is why she needs medical help to get pregnant and would be going through the menopause earlier whether she had IVF or not.”

Learn more about premature menopause here.

Read more here and here. 

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