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IVF clinics to inform patients about birth defect risks

17 January 2011
Appeared in BioNews 591

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).

The HFEA, the body which regulates all UK fertility treatment centres, is planning to release new guidelines. They will ask clinics to inform people seeking treatment about the association between birth defects and assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as IVF.

Health problems including low birth weight and neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy are more likely to occur in children conceived through fertility treatment, although the increase is only slight.

The overall risk associated with fertility treatments is small, however. Previous estimates from the HFEA indicate that the risk of developing birth defects increases from a general population level of 2 percent to 2.6 percent with fertility treatment. After a comprehensive review, the HFEA is updating its guidelines on patient information to reflect current scientific research on the possible side effects of ART.

According to the Sunday Times, the HFEA believes that: ‘The birth defects issue is certainly something that clinics should talk to their patients about. At the moment there is not anything in the code of practice [on the subject]. There is an intention to tell patients about possible health risks... so they can make informed choices about their treatment’.

Individual procedures may carry specific warnings under the new guidelines. For example, couples who choose to have ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) - a procedure of particular use in the treatment of male fertility problems - are already told that this procedure may result in children with a higher risk of infertility.

The HFEA now believes that clinics should also warn patients who choose to have embryos screened for disease-associated genetic defects, because the screening process can increase the risk of brain disorders in any resulting children.


HFEA statement on the risk of birth defects associated with assisted reproductive technology
HFEA |  24 March 2009
Women to be told of birth defect risk by IVF clinics
Sunday Times |  9 January 2011
10 August 2015 - by Dr Nicola Davis 
A Canadian study has found that as many as ten percent of cerebral palsy cases have a genetic cause...
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...
6 December 2010 - by Rosemary Paxman 
A new study has shown that IVF may not be linked to an increased risk of certain cancers among female patients. A team of Swedish researchers concluded that although cancer or cancer treatment may increase the need for IVF, the risks of cancer post-IVF treatment were low...
26 July 2010 - by Victoria Kay 
Children born following IVF are more likely to develop childhood cancers than children conceived naturally, according to a new study. This risk does, however, appear to be small and may result from specific postnatal factors...
1 March 2010 - by Dr Sophie Pryor 
Women who undergo fertility treatment are four times more likely to have a stillborn baby than those who conceive naturally or use other methods, according to a new study...
23 March 2009 - by Ailsa Stevens 
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...
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...
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