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Egg retrieval is an essential part of some common fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF treatment) and egg freezing.
It is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of mature eggs—also known as oocytes—from the ovaries (Choe, 2021).
Egg retrieval is a common and quick procedure, and it helps many people overcome infertility hurdles. Like other surgeries, it comes with some risks and side-effects.
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The egg retrieval process
From start to finish, the complete egg retrieval process can be broken down into three main stages or phases: the preparation stage, the retrieval procedure itself, and the recovery stage.
Preparing for egg retrieval
This stage usually begins with some form of ovarian stimulation treatment. Ovarian stimulation encourages the production of multiple mature eggs rather than the single egg that normally matures during a natural cycle (He, 2021).
This stimulation often takes the form of fertility medications. These drugs may include hormones such as gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which can stimulate ovulation (Choe, 2021). This is sometimes called a “trigger shot.”
The goal of stimulation is to encourage egg maturation and to ensure that a number of eggs—ideally at least 10 to 20—are available during the retrieval process. During ovarian stimulation, your healthcare team will often use ultrasound technology to monitor the development of the follicles that contain the oocytes. They will also typically use blood tests to determine the optimal timing for the retrieval procedure (Choe, 2021).
The egg retrieval procedure
The egg retrieval procedure involves some form of sedation or anesthesia—anything from partial sedation to general anesthesia may be used. The procedure itself normally lasts anywhere from 30-60 minutes.
During the procedure, which is called transvaginal oocyte retrieval or oocyte pickup, an ultrasound device is inserted into the vagina. This ultrasound guidance allows the surgeon to see your ovaries. Using a specialized needle attached to this ultrasound device, the surgeon pushes the needle through your vaginal wall and extracts the follicular fluid and egg from your follicles (Singhal, 2017).
Egg freezing: benefits, procedure, side effects, costs
Egg retrieval recovery
Egg retrieval is normally an outpatient procedure—meaning you’ll go home when it’s over. But you may be asked to stay in bed in a recovery room for an hour or two following the surgery (ESHRE, 2019). You can typically return to work and light activity the next day, and most regular activity is possible within a few days, but be sure to follow the guidance of your individualized recovery plan.
Most people will experience some mild pain, bloating, spotting, and cramping for a day or two following egg retrieval. Common over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen can help with these symptoms (ESHRE, 2019).
Complications and risks of egg retrieval
Complications of the surgical part of the egg retrieval are rare and include bleeding and infections, both of which tend to be caused by the needle puncture wound in the vaginal wall. Less than 1% of women experience them (ESHRE, 2019).
Risks of ovarian stimulation
While the egg-retrieval procedure itself is generally safe, there are some risks associated with ovarian stimulation.
Between 3–6% of women who undergo stimulation may develop mild or moderate ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome or OHSS. This can cause swelling of the reproductive organs, as well as bleeding, pain, and other symptoms. Meanwhile, between 1–3% of women may develop severe or critical OHSS, which can cause damaging organ enlargement or even death (Alteri, 2019).Women younger than 35 and those with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are at greater risk for OHSS. Fortunately, this complication is usually detected and treated early and successfully because healthcare providers tend to monitor women going through the egg retrieval process closely (Timmons, 2019).
Getting pregnant with PCOS: fertility treatment options
Common questions about egg retrieval
Have some specific questions about egg retrieval? We’ve got you covered. Here are some common Qs about this procedure.
What should I eat the night before egg retrieval?
Unless your healthcare team gives you specific instructions, you can eat what you normally eat. However, experts generally recommend that women undergoing egg retrieval eat a balanced diet and avoid processed foods. This can improve the health of your eggs (University of Utah, n.d.).
What can I eat after egg retrieval?
Unless your healthcare team tells you otherwise, you can go right back to your normal diet (University of Wisconsin, 2016).
When can I work out after egg retrieval?
Your healthcare provider will probably tell you to avoid exercise for a day or two. Also, sexual intercourse may be uncomfortable following your egg retrieval, and some healthcare providers recommend avoiding having sex for a week or two following the procedure (University of Wisconsin, 2016).
How much does egg retrieval cost?
The cost can vary greatly from state to state and clinic to clinic. But you can expect to pay $3,000 or more. And that doesn’t include the cost of fertility drugs, monitoring, and other associated services (UMMC, n.d.).
Egg retrieval is a very common fertility procedure. While it does come with some risks, side effects, and a high price tag, these considerations may seem minor when set against the opportunity for a successful pregnancy.
- Alteri, A., Pisaturo, V., Nogueira, D., & D’Angelo, A. (2019). Elective egg freezing without medical indications. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 98(5), 647–652. doi: 10.1111/aogs.13573. Retrieved from https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdfdirect/10.1111/aogs.13573
- Choe, J., Archer, J. S., & Shanks, A. L. (2021). In Vitro Fertilization. [Updated 2021, Sep 9]. In StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562266/
- ESHRE Working Group on Ultrasound in ART, D’Angelo, A., Panayotidis, C., Amso, N., Marci, R., Matorras, R., et al. (2019). Recommendations for good practice in ultrasound: oocyte pick up†. Human Reproduction Open, 2019(4), hoz025. doi: 10.1093/hropen/hoz025. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31844683/
- He, M., Zhang, T., Yang, Y., & Wang, C. (2021). Mechanisms of Oocyte Maturation and Related Epigenetic Regulation. Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, 9, 654028. doi: 10.3389/fcell.2021.654028. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33842483/
- Singhal, H., Premkumar, P. S., Chandy, A., Kunjummen, A. T., & Kamath, M. S. (2017). Patient Experience with Conscious Sedation as a Method of Pain Relief for Transvaginal Oocyte Retrieval: A Cross Sectional Study. Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences, 10(2), 119–123. doi: 10.4103/jhrs.JHRS_113_16. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28904501/
- Timmons, D., Montrief, T., Koyfman, A., & Long, B. (2019). Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome: A review for emergency clinicians. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 37(8), 1577–1584. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2019.05.018. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31097257/
- The University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC). (n.d.) In Vitro Fertilization Fee Estimate. Retrieved Nov. 24, 2021 from https://www.umc.edu/Healthcare/Womens%20Health/Fertility%20Services/fee-estimate-IVF.html
- The University of Utah Center for Reproductive Medicine. (2021) IVF Step By Step. Retrieved on Nov. 24, 2021 from https://healthcare.utah.edu/fertility/treatments/in-vitro-fertilization/step-by-step.php
- The University of Wisconsin Medical Center. (2016). After Your Egg Retrieval: Self-Care at Home. Retrieved Nov. 24, 2021 from https://www.uwmedicine.org/sites/stevie/files/2018-11/After-Your-Egg-Retrieval.pdf
Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.