IVF blood clot alert: Women pregnant as a result of fertility treatment 'have higher embolism risk'
00:02 GMT, 16 January 2013
00:02 GMT, 16 January 2013
Women who become pregnant through IVF may be more likely to develop life-threatening blood clots, researchers have warned.
The study, the first of its kind, found that their risk rose fivefold in early pregnancy compared with women who conceived naturally.
IVF is linked to more cases of pulmonary embolism, in which a blood clot causes a blockage in the main artery of the lung, and venous thromboembolism – blood clots which form elsewhere but can break off and become life threatening.
The proportional risk for those who had had IVF compared with those who had not was highest in the first three months of pregnancy (posed by model)
The researchers believe doctors should be aware of the danger, saying the number of cases remains small but blood clots on the lung are a leading cause of death in pregnant women.
They suggest the reason may be a huge rise in oestrogen levels triggered by IVF drugs, with the effect diminishing later in pregnancy.
Hormonal drugs are widely used in IVF to stimulate the ovaries, allowing up to 15 eggs to mature and be removed from a woman’s body at the same time.
But there has been concern about the health effects of over-stimulation – which occasionally can be fatal – and possible harm to the eggs.
More than 45,000 women had fertility treatment in the UK in 2010, with almost 13,000 babies born as a result.
More than 45,000 women had fertility treatment in the UK in 2010
In the latest study, researchers from
the Karolinska Institute in Sweden compared the risk of both pulmonary
embolism (PE) and venous thromboembolism (VTE) in almost 24,000 women
having an IVF pregnancy and 117,000 women having a normal pregnancy.
Women were matched for age, with an average of 33.
It is well known that the risk of blood clots is higher during natural pregnancy, but not how much the rate changes in women having IVF babies. The study found the proportion of IVF women diagnosed with VTE was 4.2 in 1,000 compared with 2.5 in 1,000 for those who had a natural pregnancy.
The proportional risk for those who had had IVF compared with those who had not was highest in the first three months of pregnancy: 1.5 in 1,000 compared with 0.3.
There was no difference in risk before pregnancy or during the year after delivery.
Researchers identified 19 women with potentially life-threatening artery blockages in the IVF group (a rate of 0.08 per cent) compared with 70 women (a rate of 0.05 per cent) having natural pregnancies. The risk in the IVF women was increased during the whole pregnancy and particularly in the first trimester.
Absolute risks for pulmonary embolism were low however, with two to three additional cases per 10,000 IVF women, says the study, published on bmj.com. But, the researchers say, it is a difficult condition to diagnose.
Study leader Professor Peter Henriksson said it was not clear why IVF mothers were more at risk, but hormonal drugs were a plausible cause.
He said: ‘During the IVF procedure hormonal drugs are given to stimulate the egg follicles to grow more eggs. This increases oestrogen levels in the body between ten and 100-fold and is likely to impact on the coagulation of the blood and increase blood clot formation.
‘It is highest during the first third of pregnancy, then eases off and the risk goes down to about the level of a normal pregnancy.’