Unfortunately, scary headlines sell! And due to ever shortening attention spans, it is just the headline that sticks in the mind. But it is important to read beyond the headline and understand the context.
Take this recent mainstream media headline for example. “Women who undergo infertility treatments may have increased risks of pregnancy complications!” The headline was based on a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. That study found women who used infertility treatments had more pre-existing health conditions, including high blood pressure and diabetes when they started treatment.
The reason for this is the age of the women seeking IVF treatment. They tend to be older than those who are trying to conceive naturally. And older people tend to have more health problems than younger people.
In the study, researchers compared more than 106,000 deliveries where the baby was conceived with IVF with 34,000,000 births conceived naturally. As well as having more pre-existing health conditions, the IVF group were also 38% more likely to need a cesarean delivery. They were also 26% more likely to have a premature birth. However, this was not unexpected.
Fertility expert, Dr. Sigal Kleipstein, who has published widely in the fertility world said, “The findings are confirming things that we already know, that women who have cardiovascular risk factors when they’re entering a pregnancy do have increased risks.”
She emphasised that underlying infertility, not the fertility treatment, is often what’s linked to worse outcomes. As an example, she points to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can also come with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Sigal Klipstein
Dr. Klipstein continued, “A woman who maybe needed a short course of fertility pills and became pregnant very quickly is different from a woman who required multiple rounds of IVF.”
It is important to put the actual risk into perspective. Older women are always at more risk of health complications arising from medical procedures than younger women. The researchers say that clinicians should have detailed discussions on the associated complications of ART in women during pre-pregnancy counselling. This ensures patients are fully aware of the risks and what can be done to mitigate them.