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Fertility Procedures Linked To Increased Risk Of Birth Defects

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 1:04 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: FDA and Prescription Drugs, Birth Defects, Pregnancy, Infants, In-Vitro Fertilization, Fertility, IVF


IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockphoto / mom and newborn / author: iDerLander

A newly released study suggests babies conceived using in vitro fertilization are two to four times more likely to be born with certain birth defects compared to babies that are conceived naturally.

Approximately eight percent of all children are born with some form of birth defect or physical irregularity. While many of these birth defects are relatively minor, some can cause lifelong disabilities and premature death. In fact, birth defects are the number one cause of death during the first year of life.

The study found in vitro babies are two to three times more likely to be born with heart defects involving a hole in the heart, said Jennita Reefhuis an epidemiologist of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These babies also have double the chance of being born with a cleft (also known as a harelip) and abnormalities in the esophagus or rectum. But these conditions are rare to begin with, generally occurring once in every 700 births, so the overall risk was still low, even after the fertility treatments.

The defects remain rare in these babies even with the increased risk and the causes of the risks remain unclear, said researchers.

For many couples, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is a last resort. During the procedure, a doctor inserts a needle through a woman's abdomen or vagina into the ovary and removes several eggs. Using sperm, the eggs are then fertilized in a culture dish and re-inserted into the uterus of the mother.

“The main cause for concern, so far, has been the increased risk of twins or multiple births, which carries its own set of worries. But, any couple considering fertility treatment should fully understand the risk of birth defects,” Reefhuis said in a phone interview.

Dr. Reefhuis also said, that while her study findings linked fertility procedures to birth defects, it did not prove an association nor did it explain it. If the association is real, it is not known whether the procedures increase the risk for birth defects, or if infertility itself raises the risk.

About 50,000 babies are born every year in the U.S. with the help IVF – that number has doubled over the past decade. An estimated one percent of U.S. babies are conceived using the technique, said researchers.

The study involved more than 250 babies conceived using in vitro fertilization, or intracytoplasmic sperm injection, a less-known technique and more than 14,000 babies conceived without using any infertility treatments.

The babies were all single births. Researchers concluded that in vitro fertilization did not significantly increase the odds of birth defects among multiple-birth children.

The study findings are published in the journal Human Reproduction. #

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