However, the researchers whose findings were published in thejournal Fertility and Sterility did not determine why fertilitytreatments are tied to a higher risk of birth defects or whetherthe technology is even responsible. In vitro fertilization (IVF) in which the mother's egg isfertilized outside of her body and then transferred to her womb has been available to would-be mothers for more than three decades,and numerous studies have looked at the potential hazards of thesetechniques. Zhibin Hu at Nanjing Medical University and colleagues collectedthe results of 46 studies that compared the number of birth defectsamong children conceived using an IVF technique to childrenconceived normally. For more than 124,000 children born through IVF or using ICSI, inwhich a single sperm is injected directly into the egg, the risk ofhaving a birth defect was 37 percent higher than that of the otherchildren, they found. Children conceived by IVF and/or ICSI are at significantlyincreased risk for birth defects, and there is no risk differencebetween children conceived by IVF and/or ICSI, the team wrote. |
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,major birth defects, such as malformation of a limb or organ, occurin about three out of every 100 babies born in the United States. A 37-percent increase would bump that rate to four out of every 100babies. (The report) confirms what most people accepted anyway, that,yes, there is an increased risk in congenital abnormalityassociated with assisted reproductive technology, said WilliamBuckett, a professor at McGill University, who was not involvedwith the review.
The increase in birth defect risk was apparent across a range offunctions and body systems, including the genitals, skeleton,digestive system and the nervous system, the authors reported. The question of why most studies find birth defects to be morecommon among IVF-conceived babies, though, remains to be answered. It's possible that the same reasons people have trouble conceivingand seek out fertility treatment could influence their increasedrisk of having a baby with a birth defect. It's also possible that the IVF techniques themselves, the jostlingand handling of the embryos, or the drugs that go along withfertility treatment, could be involved. A third theory is that birth defects only appear to be more commonin babies conceived through fertility treatments because they'remonitored more closely than other babies, Buckett said.
Couples who have had babies born as a result of IVF are followedup more closely, and therefore subtle abnormalities may be detectedthat otherwise might not have been detected. As far as trying to reduce the risk of birth defects for parentsusing IVF, Hu said in an email that it is really too early tofind out ways to reduce the risk, because the reasons accountingfor the risk are largely unknown.
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