FRIDAY, Dec. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Women who choose to donate eggs to help infertile couples should know the procedure comes with both psychological and physical risks, the first study to examine the long-term effects of donation shows.
Women also need to know that little data is available to assess whether donating eggs when young has any effect on fertility later in life, experts said.
A new study in the December issue of Fertility and Sterility found that almost one in five women reported lasting psychological effects as a result of egg donation -- some positive and some negative. Some women felt a sense of pride in helping an infertile couple, while others developed concerns about the people who were raising their genetic offspring.
Still, two-thirds of women who donated eggs reported satisfaction with the process, the study found.
"Women need to look at the risk involved very carefully, and pay attention to what they're being told about risks, not just to what they're being offered to do it," said study author Nancy Kenney, an associate professor of psychology and women's studies at the University of Washington in Seattle.
The process of egg donation isn't tightly regulated by the U.S. government, as it is in western European countries and Canada. For example, in the United Kingdom, egg donation is viewed in the same manner as organ donation, and is done without compensation to the woman providing the eggs, according to background information in the study.
To get an idea of what the egg donation process is like for a woman in the United States, the researchers administered questionnaires to 80 women -- average age 30.6 years old when surveyed -- who had donated their eggs at least once. The researchers wanted to know what a woman experiences during the process, and to answer such questions as what motivates a woman to donate, how aware of the risks women are when they donate, and how did they feel about donating their eggs several years after the procedure?
The researchers found that both altruism and money motivated the women to donate their eggs. More than 30 percent of the women surveyed said altruism alone motivated them to donate their eggs, while just under 20 percent were motivated solely by cash. About 40 percent of the women said both altruism and the promise of money motivated them.
The study found that women who donated eggs received an average of about $4,000 each time they donated. Although there isn't a set number of eggs harvested during each donation, Kenney said a typical donation may number in the teens.
When asked about the physical risks of the donation process, many women felt the risks involved were minor, and 20 percent didn't recall being made aware of any physical risks, such as ovarian hyper-stimulation due to hormone injections, or infection. Kenney pointed out that this doesn't necessarily mean the women weren't told of the risks; it may simply be that they didn't recall the risks.
"Often risk is not as meaningful to the young," Kenney said.
Women who reported physical problems with donation cited bloating, pain and cramping, ovarian hyperstimulation, mood changes and irritability, as well as weight gain or loss, as common complaints. Several women contended they had suffered infertility, decreased fertility or damage to their ovaries, the study authors said.
The survey also found that:
Seventy percent of the women donated eggs more than once, with most repeat donors undergoing the procedure two or three times. One woman donated eggs nine times.Forty-five percent of the women were students when they first donated. Most of the donations took place in California (23), Massachusetts (seven), New York (seven), Washington (seven) and New Jersey (seven).
Dr. Harry Lieman, medical director of the Montefiore Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Health in New York City, said his clinic's own consent form is about 12 to 13 pages long, and that women are definitely informed of both potential physical and psychological risks.
Both Kenney and Lieman expressed concern that there aren't really any long-term studies on the effects of egg donation on the donor's fertility. And, there aren't likely to be any because the process is generally anonymous in the United States and there is no registry of health information from women who've donated their eggs.
Still, most women who went through the donation process were happy with the experience, the new study found.
Lieman said women donating eggs should know there definitely is a "positive side" to donation, and that these women are doing something special to help infertile couples. "They're bringing a whole world to these couples," he said.
The New York State Department of Health offers advice on whether or not to become an egg donor.
SOURCES: Nancy J. Kenney, Ph.D., associate professor, psychology and women's studies, University of Washington, Seattle; Harry Lieman, M.D., medical director, Montefiore Medical Center's Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Health, New York City; December 2008 Fertility and Sterility