Thousands of children are conceived each year through assisted reproductive technologies, treatments meant to help couples who have fertility problems. But a new study of Danish children is linking fertility treatments with an increased risk that the children will develop a mental health problem later in life. Researchers described the increased risk as "modest," but identifiable nonetheless when they compared children born to parents who underwent fertility treatments with children who were conceived without intervention.
The study looked at nearly 2.5 million children born between the years 1969 and 2006, most of whose parents who had no known fertility problems. Five percent of the parents had "registered fertility problems." The children's medical histories were followed until 2009, with researchers looking for any psychiatric disorders that required hospitalization. The children born to women with fertility problems were 33 percent more likely to have a psychiatric disorder, as ScienceDaily reports:
When separate analyses were performed for psychiatric disorders diagnosed during childhood (0-19 years) and in young adulthood (â‰¥20 years), the investigators found that the risk estimates were not markedly changed, indicating that the increased risks persist into adulthood.
Commenting on the results, Dr. [Allan] Jensen said that professionals involved in the diagnosis and treatment of women with fertility problems should be aware of "the small, but potentially increased risk of psychiatric disorders among the children born to women with fertility problems." However, this knowledge, he added, "should always be balanced against the physical and psychological benefits of a pregnancy."
Only a few studies have investigated the risk of psychiatric disorders among children born after fertility treatment. Although results from most of these studies do not find an increased risk, the results do show substantial variation, said Dr Jensen; this may be because of the limited size and follow-up time in most of them. This study is the first with sufficient numbers and an adequately long follow-up period to enable a realistic assessment of risk patterns into young adulthood.
Jensen added that the study did not make a conclusion on whether it was fertility treatments or the underlying cause of the infertility--possibly genetic--that was responsible for the increased mental health risk.
Image: Fertility lab, via Shutterstock