Children born through IVF face higher risk of cardiovascular disease, warns study

Children conceived through IVF and other forms of assisted reproduction are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases which can have life-long health effects, Swiss researchers have found.

A study published on Monday claims to be the first evidence that IVF has a long-term impact and teens born via assisted reproduction were six times more likely to have clinically high blood pressure as those conceived naturally.

The researchers, from the University Hospital in Bern, say this may be down to the unmeasured impact of the techniques which see sperm and egg stored in an artificial medium and manipulated to form an embryo.

This study was small, with fewer than 100 subjects, but it follows data from animal tests which found blood vessels and heart abnormalities were more common with mice born through IVF, and has sparked calls for much larger safety trials.

“There is growing evidence that artificial reproduction techniques (ART) alters the blood vessels in children, but the long-term consequences were not known,” said Dr Emrush Rexhaj, a blood pressure expert and lead author of the study.

“We now know that this places children [born through artificial reproduction] at a six times higher rate of hypertension (high blood pressure) than children conceived naturally.”

Dr Rexhaj told The Independent: “This is the first demonstration of increased prevalence of a cardiovascular disease [in children conceived through IVF].” SHAPE  * MERGEFORMAT

But he said a 2014 study has suggested these patients may also be more at risk of Type 2 diabetes, adding: “There is already evidence showing insulin resistance in this population.”

Larger trials would be needed to conclusively show a health risk, experts say this should be considered urgently as the population born through IVF and other techniques is growing rapidly with the earliest births now in middle age.

There are an estimated six million people alive who were conceived with artificial reproduction techniques worldwide and in July, Louise Brown, the first child born through the IVF, celebrated her 40th birthday.

For the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on Monday, Dr Rexhaj recruited 97 healthy young people with an average age of 16 – 54 of the subjects were born through IVF.

The team monitored their blood pressure over 24 hours and looked at other health measures including the stiffness of their blood vessels and traits like body-mass index and smoking.

Children born through ART had higher blood pressure overall and eight of the children in this group were above thresholds for clinical hypertension, compared to one of the 43 control participants.

Looking at their health records five years before the study, they found no discernible differences between the groups.

Experts said factors which led to parent’s infertility – such as being older or pre-existing health conditions – and lifestyle traits could also be responsible for some of these differences.

Professor Robert Norman, a reproductive medicine expert at the University of Adelaide said: “It warrants a much larger study of the hundreds of thousands of IVF-conceived children in Australia who up until now have shown few medical consequences as a result of their conception.”

He added: “It may be that the first few days of exposure of an embryo to artificial culture media may affect a number of developing organs, including the heart and blood vessels.”

Professor Alastair Sutcliffe, professor of general paediatrics at University College London is leading a major study on the long-term impacts of IVF using data from 77,000 patients in England and Wales, and said all the studies too data have been too small to separate risks from the impact of lifestyle factors.

He added. “IVF conceived individuals are generally healthy but at higher risk of Beckwith Weidmann Syndrome diagnosed at birth and also at higher risk of diseases associated with prematurity if born premature.

“Otherwise their health to date – for example with cancer risk – is no different than the population as a whole.”