IVF Raises Risk For Cerebral Palsy

A new study reveals that children born as a result of in vitro fertilization (IVF) have a higher than usual risk for being born with the condition known as cerebral palsy (CP). This may have something to do with the higher rates for premature delivery and for multiple births that tend to result from IVF treatment.

The Danish study includes not quite 590,000 babies born in Denmark between 1995- 2003. The researchers found that babies born via assisted reproductive techniques (ART) had twice the rate for CP than children conceived by natural means. The results of this study were published in the journal Human Reproduction and confirm the results of earlier studies on the subject. The author of the study, Dr. Dorte Hvidtjorn, of the University of Aarhus, concludes that three factors lead to the increased risk for CP: twin or higher order births, premature delivery, and ART.

Just One

The researchers note that the total risk for conceiving a child with CP as a result of fertility treatment is still very low. Only 2-3 babies out of every 1,000 born in the U.S. or Europe will have the disorder. This means that even with an increased risk for CP, most children born as a result of ART will not have the condition. Even so, the results of this study lend greater strength toward the argument of implanting only one embryo which will lower the possibility of both multiple births and premature deliveries.

Cerebral palsy is a broad term that covers several, usually congenital conditions involving the permanent impairment of movement, posture, and balance. There may be only mild impairment or impairment may be quite severe. Some children may never be able to walk, while others may suffer from mental retardation, hearing, or vision issues.

Hvidtjorn and his team analyzed data on 588,967 children including 33,139 who were conceived by IVF or with the assistance of fertility drugs that promote ovulation. Among the general public, the rate for Danish children born with cerebral palsy is 0.2% while this rate was doubled in the children conceived by IVF. Those children conceived with the aid of fertility drugs had a 55% higher risk for CP when compared to those babies conceived by natural means.

True Culprits

The researchers then factored in premature deliveries and multiple births with the result that there was no longer an observed link between fertility treatment and cerebral palsy. This led the scientists to the conclusion that these two factors are the true culprits behind the rise in CP rates within this group. No such increased risk for CP was observed in the singleton babies born as a result of IVF treatment.


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