According to a study led by the University of Bristol, there is no link between fertility treatment and the cardiovascular health of children conceived this way.
The large-scale study found no differences in blood pressure, heart rate, lipids, and glucose measurements in children conceived naturally and children conceived through assisted reproductive technologies (ART) or fertility treatment.
The study has been published in European Heart Journal.
The importance of a large-scale study
The researchers analysed data from Bristol’s Children of the 90s study, a health study which has followed pregnant women and their children since 1991.
The safety of fertility treatment has been questioned ever since the first birth of a child by in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Previous studies on the subject have often been small, lacked a significant sample size, and had short follow-up periods and unsatisfactory comparison groups.
“This important research is only possible through large-scale international collaboration and longitudinal health studies, where participants contribute health data throughout their entire lives,” explained Deborah Lawlor, professor of epidemiology at Bristol Medical School.
The University of Bristol team worked with researchers from the Assisted Reproductive Technology and Health (A.R.T-Health) Partnership. Together, they examined data from 35,000 European, Singaporean, and Australian offspring. The study was large enough to determine whether conception by ART affected blood pressure, pulse rate, lipids or glucose from childhood to young adulthood.
The researchers found that blood pressure, heart rate, and glucose levels were similar in children conceived using ART and those conceived naturally. They also observed that cholesterol levels in those conceived by ART were slightly higher than in children conceived naturally. This association did not continue into adulthood, but there was an indication of slightly higher blood pressure in adulthood for offspring conceived using ART.
“This is the largest study of its kind, and could not be conducted without data from studies such as Children of the 90s. Parents conceiving or hoping to conceive through assisted reproductive technology and their offspring should be reassured that cardiometabolic health appears to be comparable in ART-conceived and naturally conceived children. Studies with longer follow-up would now be beneficial to examine how results might change across adulthood,” said Dr Ahmed Elhakeem, research fellow in Epidemiology at Bristol Medical School.
Fertility treatment is a safe option
Around 60,000 patients undergo fertility treatment each year in the UK. The researchers say that their study should reassure those considering fertility treatment options such as IVF, as cardiovascular outcomes are no different from naturally conceived children.
“Science and research move rapidly in the fertility sector but it is widely acknowledged that more large-scale studies like this are needed to continually drive improvements in care. Health outcomes in children conceived using assisted reproductive technologies are a high priority for us and we monitor the latest research and provide information for patients and professionals,” concluded Peter Thompson, chief executive of The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.