What are the risks of overdosing on fertility treatments?

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"When a couple are feeling pressured or desperate to conceive, it may be tempting to take too much of the prescribed medication." Photo: Getty Images
"When a couple are feeling pressured or desperate to conceive, it may be tempting to take too much of the prescribed medication." Photo: Getty Images

Taking fertility drugs to increase their chances of conception is something that some couples do, with good results.

It's a legitimate way to help a woman fall pregnant if a couple is having trouble, when supported by medical professionals and when properly managed.  

But when a couple feels pressured or desperate to conceive, it may be tempting to take too much of the prescribed medication, in an effort to ensure a pregnancy, or in some cases to fall pregnant with twins or triplets.  

Parent24 interviewed Dr Paul le Roux, CEO at Cape Fertility, a fertility clinic in South Africa that has helped many couples conceive.

Dr Le Roux is a registered specialist in reproductive medicine with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. His special interests are IVF, reproductive endocrinology, egg freezing and egg donation.

Read: What are the chances of falling pregnant with decuplets? Plus, how dangerous is it?  

Risks of overdosing fertility treatment

Dr Le Roux explained that fertility medications act to produce more than one egg (oocyte) at a time, so there is a risk when patients undergo fertility treatment with the aim of having twins or triplets. 

He added that if patients are using medications to super-ovulate, they must be monitored with ultrasound to ensure that there is no high risk for multiple pregnancies during treatment.

This article is one of a series on Infertility in South Africa. Find the complete series here.

Dr Le Roux notes that multiples are often born preterm, and there are many risks for premature babies, such as serious health complications, cerebral palsy as a result of brain injuries, and even death.

He stresses that for these reasons mentioned above, the aim of fertility treatment should be a singleton healthy live birth. 

Policies around fertility treatments

"During IVF treatment when eggs are fertilised in a laboratory and transferred back into the patient, modern guidelines stipulate that only one embryo should be transferred back in younger patients to avoid the risk of multiple pregnancies," explained Dr Le Roux.

He says that this policy has reduced the risk of multiple births from IVF in recent years.

Also read: Infertility facts | Over forty reasons why you shouldn't wait until it's too late

Restrictions around fertility treatments

Le Roux tells us that there are laws in place to prohibit the transfer of more than three embryos into one patient.

He adds that this law is outdated as it was passed years ago, and there is a need to update fertility legislations continually, to ensure safety for patients. 

"It is also important that fertility treatments are administered and managed by doctors properly qualified in the field to minimise the risk of multiple births for patients," he stresses.

He told Parent24 there is a national guideline on how many embryos to transfer to a patient to guide fertility specialists on the correct management of patients, which practitioners must follow.

Next: Why are African homes pressuring their children to fall pregnant before a certain age?

Find the complete series here: Infertility in South Africa


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