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Doctors must alert patients to IVF risks, says fertility watchdog

23 March 2009
Appeared in BioNews 500

The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the government's fertility watchdog, is updating its guidelines to recommend that doctors make couples aware of the potential risks to children conceived by IVF. The decision follows the publication of a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, US, last November, indicating that babies born following assisted conception have a small increased risk of certain genetic health problems.

The HFEA says that the move is necessary in order to allow patients to make an informed decision about what treatment option to pursue. 'Following the publication of a US study into birth defects, HFEA's scientific and clinical advances committee reviewed our guidance and advice about the risks of treatment. As with any medical procedure, it is important that patients understand what the treatment involves and what the risks may be,' an HFEA spokesperson said.

The CDC study included 9,584 babies with birth defects, of which 2.4 per cent had been conceived using IVF, and 4,792 babies without birth defects, of which 1.1 per cent had been conceived by IVF. It showed that babies conceived through IVF and related assisted reproduction technologies were up to 30 per cent more likely to suffer from certain birth defects, such as cleft palate, digestive tract abnormalities and having a hole between the chambers of the heart.

The HFEA will post new information explaining the potential risks to patients on its website from next month. The information will also emphasise that further research is required to confirm the preliminary findings and that the risk of health problems, relative to natural conception, is very small.

Richard Kennedy, of the British Fertility Society, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper: 'What we need to remember is that the overall risks of an abnormality occurring is increased with IVF but it is still a small risk. Nevertheless, patients need to be aware.'

Some experts are predicting that the move may lead to a drop in the number of patients seeking IVF, with many only using it as a last resort once other avenues have been exhausted. Speaking to the Independent, Dr Gedis Grudzinskas, a consultant gynaecologist in London's Harley Street, said: 'There will now be less of a rush to use IVF depending on age and circumstance. People will be encouraged to use the gently-gently approach of artificial insemination or medication. Doctors have in the past jumped into IVF but they have done so thinking that there was no excess risk of a child being born with an abnormality.'

IVF couples to be warned of birth defect risk
The Daily Telegraph |  20 March 2009
IVF watchdog to warn of birth defect risks
The Guardian |  21 March 2009
New guidance on IVF defects risk
BBC News Online |  21 March 2009
Test-tube baby report will scare patients off IVF
The Independent |  22 March 2009
19 November 2012 - by Dr Nicola Davis 
Infants conceived by IVF are at significantly greater risk of birth defects compared to naturally conceived babies, announced scientists at a conference last month...
11 June 2012 - by James Brooks 
Use of assisted reproductive technologies like IVF carry with them an increased risk of complications for mother and child, a report from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists highlights...
31 January 2011 - by Dr Lucy Freem 
Deaths related to IVF treatment should be better reported to stop them increasing, say the authors of a British Medical Journal (BMJ) editorial. The editorial argues IVF may be riskier than unassisted pregnancy or abortion, although deaths related to IVF remain rare...
17 January 2011 - by Dr Lucy Freem 
Clinics should warn patients about the increased risk of birth defects for children conceived using fertility treatment, say the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)....
26 May 2009 - by Ben Jones 
Two studies have provided an insight into the health implications of using assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). The first finds that twins conceived by ART are more likely to be born preterm, be of low birthweight and to be 60 per cent more likely to be admitted into...
23 February 2009 - by Sarah Pritchard 
A large study has investigated the potential genetic risks to children conceived by in vitro fertilisation (IVF). It confirms earlier research indicating that babies born following assisted conception have a small increased risk of certain genetic health problems. The New York Times reports that in November last...
23 November 2008 - by Lorna Stewart 
A study published last week in the journal Human Reproduction found an elevated risk of birth defects amongst babies conceived through assisted reproductive techniques, including IVF. The research, headed by Dr Jennita Reefhuis of the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, used data from the National...
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