Understanding the Risk of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome

ovarian hyperstimulation syndromeAre you experiencing ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome with fertility treatment? As with any medicine or medical treatment, fertility medication comes with its own set of side effects that vary from person to person. In most cases, they’re on the minor side – issues like bloating, headaches, and mood swings, which are understandably uncomfortable, but nothing worse than what you’ve experienced around your period.

But in some cases, particularly with ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), the side effects can be severe, putting your overall health at risk. OHSS, which occurs when medication overstimulates and enlarges your ovaries, requires monitoring by your physician to ensure symptoms don’t get worse and to relieve you of any pain and discomfort you may be experiencing.

While ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome sounds scary, there’s no reason to panic! Only 10% of patients experience OHSS, and in most cases, the symptoms are mild. Your physician will go over all the details of OHSS and monitor you from day one to reduce your risk. But doing a little research first on your own can help you prepare for the unexpected.

What is OHSS and What Are the Symptoms?

Fertility drugs like gonadotropins were developed to stimulate your ovaries in order to produce an egg. But sometimes they can do too good of a job. Overstimulation can lead to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, causing the ovaries to swell and fluids to leak into the belly and chest. If you get OHSS, you may notice one or more symptoms:

  • Weight gain
  • Decreased urination
  • Problems breathing
  • Bloating and abdominal comfort
  • Nausea or vomiting

In severe cases, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome can lead to blood clots, kidney dysfunction, twisting of an ovary, fluid collections in the chest, stroke, and rarely death. But again, severe instances are uncommon with only one percent of OHSS patients requiring hospitalization or invasive treatment.

Women who have a low body weight, have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or have an excessive number of ovarian follicles develop are at a higher risk of developing OHSS.

What Happens When You’re Diagnosed with OHSS?

ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome symptoms appear a few days after ovulation is triggered and usually go away within a week or two unless  pregnancy occurs. If you do become pregnant, you can expect your symptoms to stick around for a few more weeks until they resolve on their own.

OHSS requires close monitoring by your medical team, which can include ultrasounds, blood tests and medical evaluations. If symptoms become too severe, certain medications can help treat the condition. If OHSS doesn’t resolve or becomes worse, treatment cycle will need to be canceled to protect the health of mom and her future baby.

How is OHSS Treated?

There’s no cure for ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. The best way to alleviate the symptoms is good old rest and plenty of salty snacks. Before taking any of the following steps, it’s important to get clearance from your physician first:

  • This is one time where you can lose the eight glasses a day of water rule. Stock up on fluids with electrolytes and salt, such as Gatorade and V8, and salty foods like tomato soup, pretzels and (yes!) potato chips.
  • In addition to drinking plenty of fluids, eat raw fruits and vegetables and high-fiber cereals to avoid constipation.
  • Avoid bed rest during the day and do some light physical activity, such as taking a slow walk. Pass up activities like running or jumping, don’t lift anything over five pounds, and keep kids and pets from pushing on your stomach.
  • Maintain pelvic rest and skip out on sex for now. If you end up in the emergency room for any reason, do not allow anyone to perform a pelvic exam before talking to your physician first.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of severe OHSS, including extreme bloating, reduced or dark urine, constipation lasting three or more days, nausea and/or vomiting, shortness of breath, and pelvic pain.

The journey to become pregnant doesn’t always offer the easiest path. During your care, you may experience a variety of side effects along the way you can’t always control, but can possibly monitor and treat. To help prevent ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, be sure to follow all of your physician’s instructions and let them know right away if anything feels “off” once your medication kicks into action.

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