Does IVF hurt?

Does IVF hurt?

Managing the side effects of IVF treatments

We often get asked whether IVF is painful. Like most things, the answer is not simple as there are several different procedures and of course, everyone has different pain thresholds. In general none of the steps are worse than bad period pain, and all can be managed by over the counter medication should you need it.

Here is a guide to each step, what's involved, and how to manage any side effects.

Ovarian stimulation

In a natural monthly cycle, your ovaries normally produce one egg. To prepare for IVF, you’ll take medication for 8-14 days to encourage the follicles in your ovaries to produce more eggs. This normally involves daily injections of subcutaneous drugs and regular transvaginal ultrasounds, where a probe is inserted internally to scan for the number of follicles. Once these follicles reach the desired size or number, you’ll be asked to do a final subcutaneous injection (aka the ‘trigger injection’) of hCG in an attempt to mimic the body’s natural Luteinising Hormone (LH) surge.

The daily injections themselves are done on the tummy with a very thin needle, so there is virtually no actual pain. However, it is common to feel bloated and uncomfortable, and many women report feeling mood swings. Paracetamol (e.g. Panadol) and applying heat/cold can be helpful with the bloating.
Some patients do experience discomfort from fertility medications and common side effects include cramping, tiredness, headaches and constipation among others. For more information, see our patient information booklet as well as the information provided with your medication.

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Egg retrieval

This is the procedure we get asked the most questions about, as understandably as it’s more invasive and done under light anaesthetic. Your doctor will insert a probe with a needle attached into the vagina to aspirate the egg sacs or follicles from the ovaries.

After the procedure, you’ll be monitored in recovery and discharged when you’re ready to go home (normally within 2-3 hours). Like all procedures involving anaesthetic, you’ll need to have someone to accompany you home and stay with you overnight after your procedure.

It's common to experience some cramping afterwards, which can be managed with paracetamol. Some women are happy to go back to work the following day, but we recommend taking it easy for another day if you can.

A note about Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS)

Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome is a potentially serious complication that can vary in severity. Please contact us if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Mild OHSS – mild abdominal swelling, discomfort, and nausea.
  • Moderate OHSS – symptoms of mild OHSS, but the swelling is worse because of fluid build-up in the abdomen. This can cause abdominal pain and vomiting.
  • Severe OHSS – symptoms of moderate OHSS with extreme thirst and dehydration. You may only pass a small amount of urine which is dark in colour and/or you may experience shortness of breath because of a build-up of fluid in your chest. A serious but rare complication is the formation of a blood clot (thrombosis) in the legs or lungs. The symptoms of this are a swollen, tender leg, or pain in your chest and breathlessness.

If you experience symptoms of moderate or severe OHSS, please notify the clinic and attend your nearest hospital A&E department.

Embryo transfer

If you are undergoing a fresh cycle, your embryo transfer is usually scheduled five days after egg retrieval. The chosen blastocyst will be transferred through the cervix into the uterus using a small vaginal catheter.

For most patients, this procedure is painless, but occasionally this can be uncomfortable and, on rare occasions, a transfer cannot be completed. If this happens, the embryo will be frozen.

In a small number of patients, the embryo transfer procedure can cause short term abdominal cramping and/or vaginal bleeding. We usually recommend Panadol to relieve any pain.

Managing stress

Infertility is undoubtedly one of the most stressful things you'll have to go through in your life. It's just as important to manage your mental health during this time, so if you need extra support, you might find it helpful to have a free appointment with our Counsellor. 

Want to find out more?

If you have any further questions about any of the topics discussed, you can arrange a nurse chat with one of our fertility nurses. More information about these procedures can also be found on our IVF and ICSI page.

For information on how to increase your chances of conception before and during treatment, you can check out our fertility news page, or download our e-book below.

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Photo by Nick Fewings