Drug Safety

, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 513–528 | Cite as

Safety of Drugs Used in Assisted Reproduction Techniques

  • Talha Al-Shawaf
  • Ariel Zosmer
  • Martha Dirnfeld
  • Gedis Grudzinskas
Review Article


Infertility may affect one in six couples; however, the development of the assisted reproduction technique (ART) created the opportunity for a large proportion of the infertile population to bear children. Pharmacological agents are routinely used in ART, and new ones are introduced regularly, with the aim of retrieving multiple oocytes to increase the prospect of pregnancy. The combinations of drugs that are used have specific adverse effects, but it is mostly the combined action of more than one agent that causes the greatest concern. The matter is complicated by the suspicion that some techniques in ART, for example intracytoplasmic sperm injection for severe male infertility problems (including azoospermia), may also contribute to the increase in adverse effects, especially congenital malformation. Gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists are widely used in controlled ovarian hyperstimulation. It may give rise to a short period of estradiol withdrawal symptoms and it may also lead to luteal phase deficiency. Similarly GnRHa antagonists, which have been recently introduced to control ovarian hyperstimulation, can lead to luteal phase deficiency and may cause some local injection site reactions. The more pure form of gonadotropin leads to less local injection site reactions and their main adverse effects are associated with the consequences of multiple ovulations. It has been proposed that gonadotropins may be a factor in the increasing risk of ovarian cancer and possibly breast cancer, but this has not been substantiated. Prion infection is another potential hazard, although no cases have been reported. Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome is a well recognised complication of controlled ovarian hyperstimulation in ART. It is usually a result of recruitment of a large number of ovarian follicles. Efforts to minimise the incidence of this syndrome and its severity are now well developed. Congenital malformations are another possible adverse effect of fertility drugs, but it is more probable that the increase in congenital abnormality that is reported in ART is because of the population studied, i.e. patients already at high risk of congenital malformation, rather than the fertility drugs used or the technique employed. High order multiple pregnancy and its sequela is a well established complication of controlled ovarian hyperstimulation. This could be a result of multiple ovulations or more than one embryo replacement. Reducing the number of embryos transferred can reduce this more serious adverse effect for expectant mothers and for children conceived from ART.



No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.


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Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Talha Al-Shawaf
    • 1
  • Ariel Zosmer
    • 1
  • Martha Dirnfeld
    • 1
  • Gedis Grudzinskas
    • 1
  1. 1.Barts and The London Centre for Reproductive MedicineSt Bartholomew’s HospitalLondonUK

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