Genetic Risks of IVF (In-Vitro Fertilization)?

If you've been unsuccessful in starting a family, your thoughts might have turned to "assisted reproduction". Some common assisted reproduction treatments are "in vitro fertilization" (IVF), intrauterine insemination (IUI) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

The obvious benefit of assisted reproduction is that you can become pregnant. Millions of other women have done it, so why not you?

But are there any risks? It's always a good idea to understand both the benefits and the risks before you make a major medical or health decision.

The New York Times published an article on February 17, 2009 titled "Picture Emerging on Genetic Risks of IVF". It gives a good overview of possible problems with IVF.

The University of Ottawa recently reviewed 61,569 deliveries. They discovered that the rate of birth defects in women receiving assisted reproduction was 1.55 times the rate for the women who did not use assisted reproduction. The researchers concluded: "There is a significant increased risk of birth defects associated with AHR [assisted reproduction], and the risk is higher in IVF and IUI."

Scientists have also been reported a possible link between IVF and various rare serious disorders such as Beckman-Wiedemann syndrome and Angelman syndrome. It appears that assisted reproduction procedures and technology may be altering the genetic profile of the embryo. In the case of these syndromes, the problems do not become apparent until later.

There are various aspects of assisted reproduction therapy that alter the embryonic environment. These alterations may result in unintended consequences. For example, it's possible the culture medium in the Petri dish in which the embryo is growing may be influencing the embryo's genetic characteristics. More research is needed in this area.

Please note. We are not dismissing the value of IVF for some women. However, there are other things you could try before turning to IVF. Whether you try them or not is of course your very personal choice.

IVF has made many thousands of pregnancies possible. Perhaps you are one of those success stories. If so, I applaud your choice to use IVF and you have my sincere best wishes for your wonderful and healthy family.

As for the genetic risks, in our view that is a judgment call between you and your doctor.

El-Chaar D et al, Risk of birth defects increased in pregnancies conceived by assisted human reproduction, Fertil Steril. 2008 Oct 28. [Epub ahead of print]
Kalra SL et al, The association of in vitro fertilization and perinatal morbidity, Semin Reprod Med. 2008 Sep;26(5):423-35

See Related Articles

Other Medical Therapies
What Is Assisted Reproduction?
Prayer Helps IVF Pregnancy

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