Fertility Treatments Linked to Risk of Mental Problems: Studies

Children born following fertility treatments may face an increased risk of suffering certain mental disorders and retardation, according to new research.

In a study published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on July 5, Danish researchers concluded that children born after ovulation induction/intrauterine insemination procedures had a low, but significantly increased, risk of developing certain mental disorders, including autism, hyperactivity, tic, emotional, social and conduct disorders.

The study examined more than half a million children born in Denmark during 1995 through 2003, using national health registers to compile the data. Approximately 33,000 children were born using fertilization treatments, while more than 500,000 children were born from spontaneous conception. The children were followed up with in 2012, when they were between the ages of 8 and 17.

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Researchers indicated that in vitro fertilization (IVF) or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) was associated with a low risk of developing a mental disorder later in childhood, with the overall risk no higher than children born without using fertilization treatments. The study also found no increased risk of mental disorder associated with hormone drug treatments used during fertilization treatments.

In another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on July 3, research from Sweden found no link between autism and IVF fertility treatments, but did identify a slight increase in the risk of mental retardation, or intellectual impairment associated with IQ scores under 70.

Researchers in the JAMA study evaluated data on more than 2.5 million infants born in Sweden between 1982 and 2007, identifying 31,000 children conceived via IVF. While no increased risk of the developmental disorder autism was identified, researchers found the children were 18% more likely to have intellectual disabilities.

Concerns About Fertility Treatments and Birth Defects

The link between mental problems and fertility treatments has been a subject of substantial concerns and media attention in recent years.

A study published earlier this year found birth defects were more likely to occur in cases of multiple births, such as with twins and triplets, an occurrence which is often linked to the use of fertility treatments.

The rate of birth defects doubled among women who had multiple children at the same time, with many of the babies suffering from congenital birth anomalies.

While birth defects continue to be an issue among children born after fertility treatments, a study published in last year in the medical journal Obstetrics & Gynecology actually found the rate of birth defects after fertility treatments has dropped. According to the research the rates of birth defects from fertility treatments, including IVF, are now approaching the same rates as births not using treatments.

Researchers have long suspected the fertility drug Clomid to increase the risk of birth defects, specifically causing neural tube defects (NTDs). Australian researchers found birth defects linked to the use of Clomid surpassed the rates of any other fertility treatment.

During the study the risk of birth defects from IVF use resulting in 25 percent increase in birth defects, 75 percent increase when ICSI was used. However, when Clomid was introduced, the rates of birth defects jumped to a staggering 300 percent.


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