Doctors are apparently warning women that high doses of drugs taken to stimulate the ovaries in the process of IVF may damage eggs and womb lining reducing the woman's chance of conceiving. The reports come in advance of the first annual meeting of the International Society of Natural Cycle Assisted Reproduction (ISNAR). The world's first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, born in 1978, used an IVF procedure which collected the woman's eggs during ovulation making the most of her natural cycle. The use of high dose drugs has increased as older women, with less chance of success, are seeking treatment for infertility. It is believed that one in twenty IVF patients suffer some side effect from the drugs used, this can range from pain and bloating to kidney damage.
One in six British couples suffer from fertility problems, in 2005 around 30,000 women had treatment. Each IVF attempt can cost more than three thousand pounds, if the drugs are not used the cost can be reduced by as much as 1200 pounds. This could enable more NHS funding of the procedure. Professor Robert Winston told the Sunday Telegraph, 'The trend is to get as many eggs as possible, but that may be counterproductive. From the research we've done, the main risk is that doing this produces chromosomal damage in at least half, if not 70 per cent, of eggs. New studies are needed to prove the drugs are causing the damage, but it is my strong suspicion that this is the case'. In a small number of cases women can also have a reaction to the drugs - known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome - which may be fatal.
Some specialists are calling for a return to minimal drug regimes which would produce fewer eggs - usually only one egg is released each month at ovulation - but may improve a couple's chance of conceiving by removing the associated damage. The British Fertility Society has defended use of the drugs in the past, saying that doctors are aware of the potential hazards, but that the treatment increases the chances of the treatment working. The chances of successfully conceiving increase from around 10 per cent for each attempt using natural cycle IVF, to 25 to 30 per cent in standard, drug mediated IVF.