Is IVF Safe? Possible Health Risks Of Assisted Reproductive Technology

While millions of babies have been born via assisted reproductive technology (ART), experts are still studying how the use of such technologies might impact long-term health. Research has largely looked at younger individuals so far since the oldest person born via assisted reproduction is Louise Brown, who is only 40 years old.

recent study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, by a team from the University of Bern, Switzerland, shed light on the risk of blood pressure and heart-related problems being slightly higher among IVF babies. IVF or in-vitro fertilization is the most common and most effective method of ART.

Researchers examined the health of adolescents who were conceived through IVF, finding that their blood vessels showed signs of premature aging. Compared to those born through regular pregnancies, this group had higher blood pressure overall.

The same research team first spotted the difference in vascular aging when they published a study back in 2012, examining some of the same participants. The children from the study are currently at an average age of 16. 

"The fact that these kids already have abnormal vasculature is quite concerning," said Dr. Joseph Flynn, a pediatrician who helped write guidelines about blood pressure management for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "I think the fact that they saw these changes at an early age and that they're still persisting into adolescence is worrisome for these kids."

According to the National Institutes of Health, the most common complication of ART is multiple births. Twins or triplets can be expected if more than one embryo ends up implanted in the uterus. While many are happy with the idea of expecting more than one child, this does come with a few extra concerns compared to a single pregnancy. 

To name a few, there is a higher risk of going into labor early and a chance of low weight at birth for the baby. Guidelines by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recommend transferring one to two embryos for patients under the age of 35. 

While some may wonder if there is a higher risk of miscarriage, the risk is actually similar to that of natural conceiving as long as the IVF treatment uses fresh embryos. The likelihood is said to be around 15 to 25 percent in both cases, but could slightly increase with the use of frozen embryos.

These risks are nevertheless minimal and not strong enough to avoid IVF, doctors assure. Usually, complications have to do with the health of the parents rather than the method of conceiving. So it is important the parents are in good health and all guidelines are followed during the procedure, said Dr. Serena Chen, a New Jersey doctor who specializes in reproductive medicine.

"I don’t think we should freak out about IVF itself, but I think we should put more resources into research and resources into understanding the relatively poorly understood areas of reproduction, women, children, and diverse populations," she added.