For women who consider in vitro fertilization to become pregnant, new information might make them reconsider their options. But thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not necessarily the right move.
First, the troubling data: An infant born as the result of IVF is 1.25 times more likely to have birth defects than a naturally conceived baby with similar maternal characteristics, according to an analysis presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition. IVF infants were particularly likely to have birth defects of the eye, heart, reproductive organs, and urinary systems.
In IVF, a woman takes hormones to stimulate her ovaries to release multiple eggs, which are fertilized in a lab and then transferred back into the uterus.
The analysis compared infants born following the use of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), which includes all fertility treatments in which both eggs and sperm are handled, versus infants who were conceived naturally. In vitro fertilization is the most common form of ART. Other fertility treatments, such as artificial insemination or ovulation induction, were analyzed separately and were not associated with increased risk of birth defects.
But before you rule out IVF altogether, take a pause. An increased risk of birth defects sounds scary, but researchers stressed that association does not equal causation. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Our results do not prove that ART causes birth defects,Ã¢â‚¬Â says study author Lorraine Kelley-Quon, M.D., surgery resident at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, who conducted the research at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA. Rather, she says, the analysis highlights Ã¢â‚¬Å“an interesting associationÃ¢â‚¬Â between IVF and birth defects, which is supported by research from Europe and Australia.
So why does this association exist? Experts arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t entirely sure. Kelley-Quon says that study only examined whether a mother received ART therapy or not; researchers did not track how many treatments she had, her age at the time of ART, or other factors which may be related to overall risk of birth defects. In short: further research is needed.
Before you get really freaked out, Kelley-Quon shared a bit of encouragement. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Couples considering ART should be reassured that there are tens of thousands of infants born after ART each year that are perfectly healthy,Ã¢â‚¬Â she says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The results of our study show a small but significant increase in risk for infants born after ART that is in addition to the known maternal risk factors present in many women seeking treatment.Ã¢â‚¬Â
How small of an increase? Nine percent of babies born after IVF had birth defects (about 1 in 15), versus 6.6% of infants conceived naturally (1 in 11).
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The overall goal of our research is to enable couples considering ART to fully understand the potential risks associated with the procedure so that they can make an informed decision with their physician,Ã¢â‚¬Â she says.
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