Study Finds Birth Defect Rates Vary with Different Fertility Treatments

Study Finds Birth Defect Rates Vary with Different Fertility TreatmentsBirth defects are commonly found in babies after certain infertility treatments are performed, a new study has found, however the Australian researchers say the exact cause of the birth defects is still unclear, HealthDay reports.

"While treatments appear quite safe, we cannot ignore that there are significant risks that require urgent investigation with additional ongoing studies," lead researcher Michael Davies, an associate professor at the Robinson Institute of the University of Adelaide, said.

In the study, which appeared in a May issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Davies and fellow experts analyzed data that had been compiled on more than 6,100 births that stemmed from assisted reproductive methods in South Australia. These births were compared with more than 30,000 natural births to identify the risk of birth defects linked to infertility treatments. The researchers also took into account "spontaneous" pregnancies in women who had at one time had infertility treatments.

Among those women who received assisted reproduction methods, the risk of birth defects was 8.3 percent, compared with 5.8 percent in unassisted pregnancy. Defects in the study included cleft palate and problems with the baby's heart, gastrointestinal system and esophagus.

Specifically, in vitro fertilization showed a 7.2 percent risk for birth defects, while intracytoplasmic sperm injection had a risk of 9.9 percent. In women who used clomiphene citrate to stimulate ovulation, the risk of birth defects tripled, the study found.

"Although this finding was identified in a small subgroup, it is consistent with a large U.S. study from early 2011," Davies said. "The excess risk for IVF could be explained by patient characteristics, such as age or weight. In contrast, the risk for ICSI could not be explained by available factors."

Dr. Avner Hershlag, chief of the Center for Human Reproduction at North Shore University Hospital, stated that it is important for prospective parents to understand the risks, as less than 10 percent of in vitro fertilizations result in some form of defect.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Assisted Reproductive Technology includes all fertility treatments in which both eggs and sperm are handled by specialists. The system typically involves surgical removal of a woman's eggs, combining them with sperm in a laboratory setting then returning them to the woman's body.