IVF Fertility Treatment Linked to Higher Risk of Birth Defects: Study

Children conceived using in vitro fertilization (IVF) or other fertility treatment may face an increased risk of being born with birth defects, according to new research. 

According to a study published earlier this month in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility, children conceived through IVF or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) were found to be 37% more likely to have birth defects

Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 46 previous studies and looked at data on 124,468 children conceived using IVF or ICSI. Both methods demonstrated about the same increased risk of birth defects from fertility treatments.

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The study did not explain why there is an increased rate of birth defects when compared to naturally occurring pregnancy.

While the IVF or ICSI processes themselves could be contributing to the risk, there could also be an increased likelihood of birth defects linked to the problems causing the parents’ infertility. The increase could also be attributed to an increase in monitoring of children conceived artificially, which would mean that there are not actually more birth defects among those children, but instead any defects are more likely to be detected.

Determining the true cause of birth defects in children conceived through assisted means is often difficult. For years, researchers have been trying to determine whether the fertility drug Clomid may increase the risk of birth defects, particularly neural tube defects (NTDs).

The FDA has received hundreds of post-marketing reports of Clomid birth defects since it was first approved in 1972. Some studies suggest the use of the drug as much as tripled the risk of birth defects when compared to women who conceived normally. However a number of other studies have found weaker or no associations.

Neural tube birth defects occur when the neural tube does not close completely, leaving an opening in the spinal cord or brain. This could result in spina bifida, anencephaly, as well as others birth defects.

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