There’s a lot of misinformation out there about in vitro fertilization ― from the myth that it causes cancer to the attempts by anti-abortion activists to link the assisted reproduction method to their movement.
A recent scene on “The Kardashians” sparked even more confusion and discussion about IVF, this time as to how it relates to menopause. In the second episode of the new Hulu show, Kourtney Kardashian talks to her mother Kris Jenner about her difficult experience with the process as she tries to conceive a child with her partner Travis Barker.
“The medication that they’ve been giving me, they put me into menopause,” she says at one point. “Literally into menopause.”
But is this even possible? HuffPost spoke to some experts to find out.
No, IVF doesn’t cause menopause
“There are no validated studies which support the statement that the medications used in IVF treatment brings about early menopause,” said Dr. Luis Murrain, a reproductive genetics and fertility specialist at Dreams Fertility in Palm Springs, California.
The IVF process involves taking medications to stimulate the ovaries so that they produce as many mature follicles (sacs that contain eggs) as possible. Once the eggs are retrieved, they are fertilized with sperm to form embryos. One or multiple embryos are then transferred to the uterus.
“A woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have,” explained Dr. Joel Batzofin, co-founder and medical director at Dreams Fertility. “From puberty on, a cohort of follicles sacs will ‘come forward’ each month.”
From that cohort, one dominant follicle emerges and releases an egg, which is ovulated, and the rest of the follicles die off. With the intervention of IVF medication, those other follicles are rescued and also release eggs, which are retrieved.
“The hormones and medications used in IVF simply result in growth and development of the follicles the individual was destined to lose in that month, regardless of whether or not she did IVF,” Batzofin noted. “Stated differently, as a woman ages, each month she will lose a cohort of follicles/eggs from her remaining pool of eggs. This will continue until the entire cohort is depleted, at which time menopause ensues. The drugs used in IVF do not speed up this depletion.”
But the medication side effects can be similar to menopause symptoms
“What I think [Kardashian] is probably referring to are some of the medications the IVF folks use to help control the menstrual cycle, to ready eggs as best as possible for ovulation,” said Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, an OB-GYN with Yale University and founder of the informational website Madame Ovary.
“Some of the medications which can be used are like Lupron, which indeed does put you into temporary menopause ― while you are taking the medications. It’s not permanent and goes away when you stop taking the medication, but temporarily it can feel like menopause.”
She noted that these menopause-esque side effects include hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia. Some might experience mood changes, headaches, bloating, vaginal dryness and fatigue as well.
So although you might feel as though you’re going through menopause during the IVF process, it’s not actually menopause, and these side effects stop when you finish taking the medication.
Menopause can occur earlier than expected
“Now the other possibility that some folks experience is that menopause can occur very early,” Minkin said. “The decline in fertility in those women starts occurring before menopause.”
She noted that the average age of menopause in the U.S. is 51, though some women can experience it as early as 35.
“Let’s say someone is having trouble getting pregnant, and it turns out that she is heading towards menopause at an early age,” Minkin added. “She may, indeed, be experiencing some of what we call perimenopausal symptoms as she is being treated for her infertility.”
Perimenopause is a misunderstood period of time when your body starts making the transition to menopause. While it’s more common to notice these changes in your 40s, some women experience perimenopause in their 30s. As it pertains to fertility, it’s still very possible to get pregnant during this phase, but talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
Whatever age or context you start experiencing menopausal symptoms, just know that your IVF treatments likely did not put you there.
“Anything is possible in the body, but Kourtney Kardashian’s claim is very unlikely to happen,” Batzofin said. “There are no studies showing that IVF drugs cause early onset menopause.”