Is this the end of OHSS?

I have spoken before about my awful experience with OHSS (ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome), but I wanted to bring it up again, having read the exciting news about the new drug kisspeptin that the brilliant researchers at Imperial College in London have pioneered.

The drug has been developed to stimulate ovulation in women at risk of experiencing complications during IVF treatment, to make IVF a safer procedure.

OHSS can be, in rare cases, fatal, but can we really stop the deadly side effects?

According to Professor Waljit Dhillo from Imperial College London, this could potentially be the start of eliminating OHSS:

“OHSS is a serious side effect of IVF treatment and in some cases it can be fatal. Our study has shown that kisspeptin can be used to effectively and safely trigger egg maturation in women at high risk of OHSS, as well as produce high pregnancy rates. I hope our research can be used to make IVF a safer procedure so that we can work towards eliminating the risk of OHSS and contribute to more successful pregnancies.”

NIHR Professor in Endocrinology and Metabolism at Imperial College London

I was one of the unlucky 1% that developed this side effect from the fertility drugs in its most severe form.

I ended up in hospital for two weeks in sheer agony and desperation. My doctor had explained to me that because I have PCOS, there was a chance I could develop OHSS, but although I heard him speak, I didn’t listen … I just wanted to get on with my treatment. As a result, I didn’t pay attention to the cramps and bloating in my stomach until it was too late. I developed severe OHSS after my embryos were put back in. I was in so much pain, and I was scared and anxious.

So what is OHSS?

Well, as you know, drugs are used to stimulate egg production, and in some women this can cause the ovaries to go into overdrive and produce too many egg sacs (follicles).

When this happens, the over-stimulated ovaries swell up and release oestrogen-rich chemicals into the bloodstream, which then leaks into your body. The fluid can enter your abdomen and, in severe cases, into the space around the heart and lungs. OHSS can affect the kidneys and liver too. Egg quality may also be affected.

A serious, but rare, complication is a blood clot (thrombosis) or even death if left untreated. The good news is that most women with OHSS tend to have mild symptoms (pain, diarrhoea, nausea, headache and hot flushes) and can be treated easily.

But, with the successful development of kisspeptin, we may never have to talk about OHSS again! So let’s find out more about the science behind this amazing drug.

Kisspeptin – how does it work?

When researchers at Imperial College in London started to use kisspeptin to stimulate ovulation in women at risk of developing complications during IVF, they had no idea if it would work; it was just a theory.

What causes OHSS during IVF treatment are the potent pregnancy hormone drugs (hCG) that stimulate egg maturation. In the trial, 60 women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) were given kisspeptin, a naturally occurring hormone. Unlike hCG, which acts directly on the ovary, kisspeptin triggers the hypothalamus in the brain to stimulate the reproductive hormones, so the risk of overstimulation is lower.

No OHSS and high pregnancy rates

The results? None of the women developed serious OHSS and the pregnancy rates were very high. After six weeks, they achieved 77% clinical pregnancy rates and a live birth rate of 62%. That’s twice as effective as standard IVF treatment. Typically, when using hCG there would be OHSS rate of about 30%, which can be life threatening. With kisspeptin, the rate dropped to zero.

Imperial’s scientists hope to carry out larger trials soon and if the results are equally positive, clinics may be using kisspeptin instead of hCG before too long.

For more information, click here


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