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Children Born due to Fertility Treatments have a Greater Risk of Mental Illness

Update Date: Jun 30, 2014 10:55 AM EDT

For couples with fertility problems, treatments, such as in vitro fertilization, can greatly increase their chances of getting pregnant and having a successful live birth. However, these types of fertility treatments involve a lot of different drugs. In a new study, researchers compared the mental health of children born to women who received fertility treatments to the mental health of naturally conceived children. The team found that children in the first group had a greater risk of developing psychiatric disorders.

For this study headed by Dr. Allan Jensen from the Danish Cancer Society Research Center at the University of Copenhagen, the team analyzed data taken from a register of Danish children born from 1969 to 2006. There were a total of 2,430,826 births. Five percent, or 124,384, were born to women who had fertility issues and the remaining 95 percent were born to women who had no problems getting pregnant. All of the children were followed for a median of 20 years until 2009.

Overall, 170,240 children had been hospitalized due to some psychiatric disorder. Children who were born as a result of fertility treatments had a 33 percent greater risk of having any defined mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and psychoses, affective disorder and anxiety. The researchers added that the risk of psychiatric disorders was modest. However, the risk was long-term, from childhood into adulthood. Dr. Jensen stated that doctors treating children who were the product of such treatments should be aware of the small risk of psychiatric disorders.

"Our study is the largest to date. It includes the highest number of children and a long enough follow-up time to adequate assess the risk into adulthood," Dr. Jensen said according to the press release.

He added, "So the exact mechanisms behind the observed increase in risk are still unknown. But it is generally believed that underlying infertility has a more important role in adverse effects in the offspring than the treatment procedures. It is known, for example, that psychiatric disorders to some degree have a genetic component. It is perhaps thus likely that that these damaged genes coding for psychiatric diseases are overrepresented in women with fertility problems, and, if transferred to their offspring, this may at least partly explain the increased risk of psychiatric diseases."

The study's findings were presented at the Annual Meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) taking place in Munich.

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