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Childlessness resulting from failed IVF is asssociated with decreased lifespan

10 December 2012
Appeared in BioNews 685

Couples seeking IVF treatment who do not eventually conceive or adopt are more likely to die early, claim scientists.

'Mindful that association is not causation, our results suggest that the mortality rates are higher in the childless', writes lead author of the study Professor Esben Agerbo of Aarhus University, Denmark.

The study analysed data from population registers for 21,000 Danish couples seeking IVF and found women who remained childless were four times more likely to die early compared with women who did conceive. Similarly, men who did not conceive were twice as likely to die early compared to those men who went on to have children. The early deaths were due to circulatory disease, cancer and accidents. However it should be noted that the total number of deaths recorded were low, at 316.

Confounding factors have been suggested to explain the link between involuntary childlessness and early death, as consult psychologist Ingrid Collins, who was not involved in the study, explained to the BBC:

'People having IVF tend to be desperate for a child, if they are unsuccessful they may be depressed - it may even be this rather than childlessness that is playing a part. One can only guess'.

The study authors stressed that the association between childlessness and early death may be affected by undiagnosed health issues, which increase both the risk of infertility and early death. Other variables suggested to affect the results of the study include age, income, education and marital breakup. For example; wealthy couples who are more likely to live longer, are also more likely to conceive as they can afford a greater number of IVF treatments than couples of a lower income.

Collins highlighted that: 'This is a very specific situation of people who are trying to have children - the study's findings cannot be used to generalise across the whole general population'.

The study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Childless couples have higher risk of dying prematurely but adopting may reduce chances of an early death
Mail Online |  6 December 2012
Childless couples who wanted kids 'die younger'
NHS Choices |  6 December 2012
Childlessness 'may increase likelihood of early death'
BBC News |  6 December 2012
Childlessness, parental mortality and psychiatric illness: a natural experiment based on in vitro fertility treatment and adoption
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health |  5 December 2012
Death rate 2 to 4 times as high among childless couples
EurekAlert (press release) |  5 December 2012
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