Some Fertility Treatments May Increase Risk of Birth Defects: Study

Women who conceive using in vitro fertilization (IVF) or other types of assisted reproductive technologies may face a higher risk of having children with certain birth defects than women who conceive naturally, according to the findings of a new study. 

In a report published by the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics on April 4, researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified a potential risk of birth defects involving the large intestine and rectum linked to various types of fertility treatments.

Researchers reviewed the assisted reproductive technology surveillance records, birth certificates and birth defect registry data for three states, including Florida, Massachusetts and Michigan. That data included more than 4.6 million live births from 2000 to 2010. Researchers analyzed the data between February 2015 and August 2015.

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About 65,000 infants, or 1.4%, were conceived using assisted reproductive technology. Researchers found the prevalence of one or more defects was 59 per 100,000 infants, compared to 48 per 100,000 among infants who were conceived naturally.

Infants who were conceived using methods like in vitro fertilization were more likely to a non-chromosomal birth defect causing a narrowing or an absence of the large intestine or rectum. The increased risk of birth defects was seen among both single infant births and multiple infant births conceived using assisted reproductive technology, compared to single or multiple births conceived naturally.

Prior research has highlighted potential fertility treatment risks for infants. Research published in March in the journal Pediatrics concluded that children born using reproductive techniques had a 67 percent higher risk of developing leukemia. The study also found a threefold increased risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma among children who were born using IVF, artificial insemination and medication.

Assisted Reproductive Technology Birth Defects

Despite the findings of the new study, researchers said the increased risk may be caused by other underlying risk factors, such as older maternal age or complications connected to the reason the women may be infertile and unable to conceive naturally in the first place.

Most of the women who did not use technology to reproduce were under the age of 30, compared to the majority of women who used assisted reproductive technology were 35 years or older. However, researchers found the increased likelihood of birth defects even after adjusting for maternal age and other maternal characteristics.

Women who underwent a specific type of assisted reproductive technology, known as assisted egg hatching, had a 55% higher risk of giving birth to a child with birth defects. Assisted egg hatching is a process where doctors help the embryo emerge from the layer of proteins so it can attach to the uterus.

Infants born to mothers who underwent fresh embryo transfer also had a higher prevalence of having birth defects than those born to mothers without the procedure. Fresh embryo transfer is often used in conjunction with in vitro fertilization. It is a process where the embryo is placed into the uterus with the intent of pregnancy.

Researchers say the new findings should not deter women from using assisted reproductive technology methods but called for future studies of this kind.


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