Egg Retrieval Shouldn’t Damage Your Ovaries & Here’s Why

A picture of the uterus with ovaries

The egg retrieval process does unusual things to your ovaries. It causes them to become enlarged and swollen after which they’re punctured with a needle so that their eggs can be sucked out. So it’s understandable that you might have thought that egg retrieval damages your ovaries. However, this is not the case.

Egg retrieval should not damage your ovaries. They should recover from being pierced within three days and return to their normal size by the time of your next period. Of course, damage to your ovaries can occur in rare cases or if you become hyperstimulated, but that’s why you’re monitored throughout the process with blood tests and ultrasounds.

We’ll look more closely at what the egg retrieval process does to your ovaries and how long it takes them to return to normal so that you can see why it’s unlikely for them to become damaged. It’s also useful to know under what conditions they can become damaged so that you can take the appropriate precautions.

What Egg Retrieval Does to Your Ovaries

The egg retrieval process does two things to your ovaries.

  1. It causes them to swell or become enlarged
  2. They are pierced with a needle so that the eggs can be sucked out

Let’s take a more detailed look at each of these.

The Enlarging of the Ovaries

During the first phase of IVF treatment, you take medications and injections to stimulate your ovaries so that they produce more follicles than during a normal period. Each of these follicles then grow and produce eggs. With all those extra eggs, your ovaries will become enlarged and obviously, the more follicles you produce, the more your ovaries will swell.

To give you a sense of proportion, in a normal period you’ll usually only have one dominant follicle, but during an IVF cycle you can have between 5 and 40!

This is why many women feel bloated during IVF treatment.

Now obviously this is unnatural and obviously this could damage your ovaries which is why you’re regularly monitored. All those blood tests and ultrasounds you’re having during this period, allow your doctor to keep track of the health of your ovaries so that they don’t become over stimulated and possibly damaged.

The swelling of your ovaries and the accompanying bloating sensation can intensify during the egg retrieval procedure itself, which is counter-intuitive because if the whole reason your ovaries are swollen is as a result of having so many more eggs than usual, then it stands to reason that once they’re extracted, they should return to their original size.

However, once the eggs are removed, blood rushes in to fill their place, so the ovaries remain enlarged. This is why more women feel bloated after the egg retrieval procedure than before, and those who already felt bloated beforehand are likely to feel even more bloated afterwards.

Woman holding her stomach in pain

The Piercing of the Ovaries So the Eggs Can Be Sucked Out

An egg retrieval procedure is carried out as follows: A speculum is used to open your vagina and a thin aspiration needle attached to a vaginal ultrasound probe, is inserted. The doctor uses the ultrasound to see the ovaries and locate the ovarian follicles. The needle then pierces through your vaginal wall and into the egg follicle. The egg and fluid within the follicle is sucked out.

This process is repeated with all the follicles of one ovary and then with all the follicles of the other ovary until all the follicles are drained.

Basically, it’s the regular vaginal ultrasound that you’ve been having until now – which is not so unpleasant, to check your follicular growth with the extra step of a needle repeatedly puncturing the vaginal wall and your ovaries to suck out the eggs – which would be quite unpleasant and painful, but you’re placed under general anesthetic so that you’ll be asleep for the entire procedure and won’t feel any pain whatsoever.

Egg Retrieval Shouldn’t Damage Your Ovaries

The egg retrieval process should not damage your ovaries. They will recover from being pierced and having the eggs and their fluid sucked out and return to their normal size.

After the egg retrieval you may feel the following pains and discomforts:

  •           Vaginal soreness
  •           Cramping
  •           Spotting
  •           Bloating

The first three are the result of your ovaries being pierced and should disappear within three days.

The last is as mentioned, the result of your ovaries being enlarged and swollen and that is usually entirely gone when your ovaries return to their normal size by the start of your next period. All the cramping, swelling, bloating and discomfort that you may have felt will disappear at the same time.

Unless you become pregnant in which case it may take several more weeks for the bloating to completely disappear, and in some instances it can actually get worse before getting better.

When Egg Retrieval Could Damage Your Ovaries

Of course, it’s not impossible that egg retrieval could cause damage to your ovaries, after all, let’s face it, you are artificially stimulating them into doing something unnatural and causing them to become bigger than usual.

This is why you’re monitored so closely. Because they are likely to become damaged if you simply take the stimulation injections and hope for the best.

This is the reason why you need to be aware of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) and its symptoms because you must contact your doctor if you think you have it so it can be properly treated before your ovaries are damaged.

Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome can occur if your ovaries are stimulated too much and leak fluid into the abdomen or belly.

There are actually three levels of OHSS: Mild, Moderate and Severe. While 33% of women doing IVF will experience mild OHSS and it’s not too much of a concern, only 1% of women will experience severe OHSS where all the more unpleasant complications including damage to your ovaries, can occur.

Some of the signs of OHSS apart from feeling super trapped wind, are:

  •           Significant abdominal pain
  •           Enlarged abdomen
  •           Nausea – vomiting in severe cases
  •           Reduced urination
  •           Constipation
  •           Weight-gain due to more fluid
  •           Shortness of breath – in severe cases
  •           Blood clots – in severe cases

A mild case of OHSS will resolve itself by the time you get your next period (and once again if you become pregnant it could take several weeks longer) and even some severe cases too, although it may also require hospitalization and the draining of fluid that accumulates in the abdomen.

I’ve done five egg retrievals (so far) but only once experienced more than moderate OHSS and it was not so alarming – at least not for me. My husband however felt otherwise.  I however, found it more unpleasant than frightening dealing with an enlarged abdomen, constipation, reduced urination, weight-gain and some shortness of breath. I checked myself into the hospital as a precaution and all the symptoms eased within a few days without significant intervention.

Either way, the good news is that you’re still highly likely to recover from the highly unlikely occurrence of severe OHSS without your ovaries becoming permanently damaged.

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