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Infertility Treatments May Raise Birth Defect Risk

Study Finds Certain Kinds of Assisted Reproduction Are Linked to Higher Rates of Birth Defects

Researchers Warn Against Self-Dosing Clomid continued...

The FDA has labeled Clomid as a drug that should not be used in pregnancy because it raises the risk of major birth defects.

Women who are desperate to become pregnant, but who may not be able to afford the expense of fertility treatments, sometimes order Clomid off the Internet, Davies says.

Women in the study who opted to use Clomid on their own, without medical supervision, had a 300% higher risk of having a baby born with a birth defect compared to fertile couples.

"I actually think we may be seeing the tip of the iceberg in that finding, to be quite honest. I think it may help contribute to why we're seeing an excess of birth defects in women who went through infertility but who don't report ART," Davies says. He is planning more research to look into the problem.

Study Should Spur Further Research

Experts who were not involved in the research praised the study for its size and depth.

"It's reassuring for the most part and scientifically done the right way," says Avner Hershlag, MD, chief of the Center for Human Reproduction at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.

"IVF is a relatively young field," he says, and experts have wondered, "What kind of human beings are we creating, and is that an issue because of reproductive technology?"

"It's very good for us to know that we're not doing something bad for our patients," Hershlag says.

Other experts agreed that the study should comfort people who seek help for infertility.

"For the most part, this confirms what was already known. It does lend strength to the idea that infertile couples in general are at increased risk of having a child with a birth defect, regardless of whether they're treated or not," says Bradley J. Van Voorhis, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine in Iowa City.

About 3% of babies born in the U.S. each year have a birth defect, according to the CDC. The increased risk associated with infertility and infertility treatment appears to raise a couple's risk of having a baby with a birth defect to about 4%.

Overall, Van Voorhis notes, the risk is still low.

"What we counsel patients is that the increased risk is slight but is probably there. But we don't necessarily have any evidence that it's due to the treatments we're giving them," he says.

"That's the way I counseled them before this article and that's what I'll continue to do, perhaps armed with better numbers to support that fact," Van Voorhis says.

Other experts agree and say that the study should spur further investigation.

"These are interesting and important findings, and we will need much more research to allow us to help patients overcome their infertility with treatments that are as safe as possible for them and the children born from the treatments," says Glenn Schattman, MD, president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, in an emailed statement.

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