Health & emotional well-being

The most important thing to keep in mind throughout this process is that this is your body and you get to decide what is best for you. Be prepared to draw on your support system (friends and family) as well as support from the clinic and/or agency throughout this process.

Questions to ask:

Are there any health risks involved in egg donation?

There have been reports of adverse health effects in the short- and long-term for women who have donated eggs. Make sure that you are as aware as possible about how this might affect you, and make your decision accordingly.

In the short-term, you could develop soreness, redness, or mild bruising at injection sites. You may also experience mood swings, breast tenderness, enlarged ovaries, and mild fluid retention. Although rare, some women do experience allergic reactions to the medications.  There are two predominant health risks that egg donors encounter: ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome and ovarian torsion.  

Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)

Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), is caused by the ovaries being overstimulated by the medications used to hyperfertilize egg donors prior to retrieval.  OHSS leads to swelling of the ovaries and fluid retention. OHSS ranges from mild to severe.  With mild OHSS, you may experience pain, pressure, and swelling, all of which should go away after your next period. In moderate OHSS, you may require bed rest, monitoring, and pain medications. Severe OHSS, while rare, can result in serious medical complications, including blood clots, kidney failure, fluid build-up in the lungs, and shock. Severe OHSS requires hospitalization and can be potentially life threatening. If your case of OHSS is severe enough, you could require a medical procedure in which one or both of your ovaries are removed. This will significantly impact one’s fertility.

In the long-term, because this process is relatively new, we still lack data on the frequency of side effects or complications, such as OHSS. Often clinics will quote a 1% chance of suffering OHSS after retrieval. However, some informal surveys have shown the occurrence of OHSS is actually much higher. (Link to DSR Survey - 30% suffer OHSS).

Ovarian torsion

Ovarian torsion occurs when an enlarged ovary twists over the attached fallopian tube.  The twist prevents necessary blood from reaching the ovary.  Ovarian torsion often occurs when a woman has enlarged ovaries - as is the case for egg donors who are stimulating their ovaries to produce more eggs - and the woman engages in high- to medium-impact activity.  These activities can range from brisk walking on an in/decline to jumping jacks.  Ovarian torsion leads to acute lower abdominal pain, and can require surgery to correct or remove the ovary.  If the ovary is removed, this significantly decreases a woman’s fertility as the eggs within the ovary are no longer viable.  If the ovary can be saved, there is still the possibility that the ovary and fallopian tube could be damaged due to blood restriction or trauma.

Controversy: Safety

There are widely acknowledged risks associated with egg donation, but the question of safety remains hotly debated. For example: what does “safe” really mean and how can a woman assess risks and benefits, particularly when we do not have sufficient long-term data about health impacts? Some health advocates suggest that it is not worth risking one’s health when the long-term risks are unknown, or that some of the known risks associated with egg donation are unacceptable, and women should not be subjected to such risks. Others suggest that when long-term risks are unknown, it is appropriate to proceed if the known benefits outweigh the known risks in a risk-benefit analysis of egg donation. Still others argue that the risks associated with this procedure are within the acceptable range of risks for any medical procedure.  As with all medical procedures - whether it be a kidney donation or an appendectomy - there are risks associated with the process.  It is important for each person to be informed about these risks and make the best decision for her own body.

Will this procedure affect my ability to have children in the future?

It is unknown whether or not egg donation can impact a donor’s current or future fertility. Severe OHSS or ovarian torsion may result in the removal of one or both of your ovaries, which significantly impacts one’s ability to have children in the future.

Because the egg donation process is relatively new, we still lack data on the long-term effects of donation and the frequency of side effects or complications, such as OHSS. There have been no long-term studies on the health effects of egg donation, including risks to infertility.

How is my current emotional well-being? Could this add to the level of stress in my life?

If you decide to donate, you will be required to go through a psychological screening procedure to assess your level of commitment, awareness of the responsibilities involved, clarity of what you are committing to, and emotional and mental stability, as this process can be both physically and emotionally stressful.  Apart from the psychological screening, you should consider your own emotional well-being before agreeing to be an egg donor.  Some of the medications used in the egg donation process can cause mood swings. It is not uncommon for simple daily tasks to seem overwhelming and relationships to suffer.  Therefore, it is important that you feel comfortable with your own emotional well-being and discuss the process with your support system (friends/family) before starting the process of becoming an egg donor.

Consideration: Psychological counseling and support

Most egg donation programs require donors to submit to a psychological screening prior to donating. This is typically a one-time meeting, with a donor sometimes completing a personality test prior to the meeting. Depending on the program, the psychological screening can last as little as 20-minutes and as long as 3 hours. Although a donor may have support from the egg donor coordinator, it may also be helpful to seek independent support, with a counselor who is not part of the clinic/agency.