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Infertility Treatment Studies Shed Light on Birth Defects


Many Ohio couples dealing with infertility use some type of medical advancement or fertility assistance to conceive. Reproductive technology is found to help and results in about 3.7 million births every year worldwide. A widely used successful method that involves extracting an egg and fertilizing it outside the body is in vitro fertilization (IVF). However, studies have highlighted potential increased risks for birth defects when certain reproductive technology is used.

Does Reproductive Technology Increase the Risk of Birth Defects?

A major Canadian study five years ago raised issues about the safety of utilizing reproductive methods, revealing that the chance of a birth defect is higher among babies who are conceived through reproductive technology.

Among the Canadian study subjects, babies conceived without assistance had a 1.87 percent chance rate of birth defects. However, the highest risk of birth defects occurred among the babies conceived through IVF – 2.97 percent. Researchers, however, were uncertain as to what caused the difference in the rate of defects among the two groups.

A recent Australian study, however, has shed light on the questions that remained unanswered in the earlier study. In the large Australian study, six percent of babies conceived naturally had birth defects, but the rate was 10 percent among babies conceived through a specific IVF technique.

The technique that yielded the 10 percent defect rate is known as sperm injection, in which a single sperm cell is injected into an egg. In simple IVF, sperm are mixed with eggs, rather than injected. Revealingly, babies conceived through simple IVF had the same rate of birth defects as babies conceived naturally.

Reasons Behind Birth Defects

Sperm injection was developed as a response to male infertility. Researchers believe that the increased rate in birth defects following sperm injection may be due to inferior sperm, not necessarily due to the actual procedure itself.

That explanation is supported by the fact that embryos used right after fertilization had a higher rate of defects than those that were frozen and stored for a period of time before implantation. Researchers believe that the weaker embryos did not survive being frozen and thawed, so the stronger ones were less likely to develop into babies with defects.

Doctors have a duty to fully inform couples about the risks of fertility treatments. Amid the studies regarding sperm injection techniques, couples looking at IVF should inquire further about the potential risks to their baby.

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