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How Safe Is IVF As A Pregnancy Option?

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), is a method developed to help handle infertility issues except cases of infertility causes by severe uterine problems, such as intrauterine adhesions. But how far it has successfully served the purpose is still an area of debate.

These days, over 4 million children are born following IVF treatments worldwide and it is generally regarded as a safe technique, but some scientific reports have noted an increased rate of problems following IVF in comparison to “natural” conception and birth. IVF treatments carry a substantial health risk to both the mother and baby. Also, IVF should be the last option after all natural treatment options have been exhausted. It should never be the first option. The rate of success of IVF is (on average) 27 percent per single attempt.

Health Issues Surrounding IVF

  • Chromosomal Irregularities: Injected fertility drugs can predispose women to chromosomal irregularities and are linked to increased risk of uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and fetal abnormalities.
  • Hurried Decisions: Fertility drugs are under-regulated and not subject to the same testing as other pharmaceuticals. Clinics are free to prescribe dangerously high doses of these drugs. Women are often pressured into making rushed decisions and not made fully aware of their alternatives.
  • Birth Defects: Studies report higher rates of long-term medical problems for children conceived via assisted means. Dr Klemetti and colleagues reported from the Univ of Oulu, Finland in 2005 issue of Fertility and sterility. This study looked at approximately 4,500 children conceived from IVF, 4,500 from other fertility treatments and 27,000 normally conceived. The major birth defect rate from IVF was 4.27% compared to 3.52% from other fertility treatment and 2.85% from spontaneous conception. Subanalysis showed that this risk was primarily with singleton pregnancies. There was a decrease in risk of major birth defects for multiple girls when compared to the general population. From 1996 – 2000, more than 100,000 births have been reported to the CDC. The birth defect rate for this group is 1.9%. The expected birth defect rate in the general population is 2 – 4%.
  • Death of  Patient: Risk of women dying during pregnancy increases more than threefold after IVF. A recent study from the Netherlands showed that overall rate of death in IVF pregnancies was higher than the maternal death rate in the general population (42 mothers deaths per 100,000 IVF pregnancies compared to 6 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies overall). Even IVF specialists accept that the most worrisome complication of IVF is that of ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome which may even land the prospective mother in Intensive care unit ( ICU ).
  • Multiple Pregnancies in IVF: About one in four of all IVF pregnancies result in a multiple birth in the UK owing to the common practice of replacing two or three embryos. Although some would consider having twins to be a happy result, there are many problems associated with multiple pregnancy, and problems become progressively more severe and common with triplets and each additional fetus thereafter. Women carrying a multiple pregnancy may need to spend weeks or even months in bed or in the hospital. There may be enormous bills for the prolonged and intensive care for premature babies. There is also a greater risk of late miscarriages or premature delivery in multiple pregnancies. Because of the risks to the babies of multiple pregnancy, experts recommend limiting the number of embryos transferred. Your doctor will recommend a certain number of embryos to be transferred based on your age and specific situation.
  • Excessive IVF Recommendation: Another danger of too many IVF clinics is the risk of overtreatment. In order to remain profitable, many clinics now offer IVF to infertile couples as a treatment of first choice ( rather than reserving it for patients who truly need it). While this does help them to keep their financial bottom line healthy and to increase their pregnancy rates ( since many of these patients are young couples, who never needed IVF in the first place !) , it is an inappropriate use of limited medical resources. IVF treatment should be reserved only for patients who really need it. Paradoxically, while rich patients end up getting IVF even when they don”t need it, poor patients are often deprived of this treatment even though they need it, because of the expense involved.

IVF should never be the first option for treating infertility. Natural infertility treatments are generally more effective, as well as cheaper, safer and less invasive.

Note: There is important fact that cannot be ignored that more than 90% of the children have been found to be completely normal born out of IVF treatment. Although the risks are low, they always need to be explained to prospective parents.

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