Children born to women after fertility treatment at greater risk of psychiatric disorders

June 30, 2014, European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology

Children born to women with fertility problems have a higher risk of psychiatric disorders than naturally conceived children. The increase in risk was described as "modest" by researchers from Denmark, but was found to persist throughout childhood and into young adulthood.

The results, which are presented today at the 30th Annual Meeting of ESHRE in Munich by Dr Allan Jensen of the Danish Cancer Society Research Center at the University of Copenhagen, were derived from a register study of all born in Denmark between 1969 and 2006.

From a grand total of 2,430,826 children, 124,384 (5%) were born to women with registered and 2,306,442 children (95%) to women without such problems. All the children were followed up for psychiatric disorders until 2009.

During this follow-up period (a median of around 20 years), 170,240 children were hospitalised for a psychiatric disorder. Those born to women with fertility problems were found to have a 33% greater overall risk of any defined psychiatric disorders, which was statistically significant (HR 1.33, 95% confidence interval 1.20-1.36).

Statistically significant hazard ratios for specific groups of psychiatric disorders were found for schizophrenia and psychoses (1.27, 1.16-1.38), affective disorders (1.32, 1.25-1.39), anxiety and other neurotic disorders (1.37, 1.32-1.42), mental and behavioural syndromes including eating disorders (1.13, 1.04-1.24), mental retardation (1.28, 1.17-1.40), mental development disorders including autism spectrum disorders (1.22, 1.16-1.28), and behavioural and emotional disorders including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (1.40, 1.34-1.46), when compared with rates in naturally conceived children.

When separate analyses were performed for psychiatric disorders diagnosed during childhood (0–19 years) and in young adulthood (≥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 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 .

A calculation made by Dr Jensen - based on a 33% overall increased risk of psychiatric disorders in children born to women with fertility problems and on the proportion of children born in Denmark following fertility treatment - suggests that 1.9% of all diagnosed psychiatric disorders in Denmark are associated with the mother's infertility.(1) "In my opinion," said Dr Jensen, "this figure supports our interpretation of the results - that the increased risk is real but modest."

Despite the size of the study, it was not able to establish if the increased risk was associated with factors related to the mother's infertility (genetic or biological) or to its treatment. "So the exact mechanisms behind the observed increase in risk are still unknown," explained Dr Jensen, "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."

However, Dr Jensen noted that other results from long-term cohort studies are sparse and inconsistent, but in general do not show strong associations between infertility, fertility treatment and risk of .(2) However," said Dr Jensen, "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."

Explore further: Childless women with fertility problems at higher risk of hospitalization for psychiatric disorders

More information: Notes

1. ESHRE's latest IVF monitoring data shows that 6% of all babies born in Denmark in 2010 were conceived by IVF. The calculation is based on this proportion and a 33% increased risk of all psychiatric disorders in these children.

2. For example, a recent meta-analysis of 14 studies investigating the association between infertility and autism found no differences in risk between cases and controls, and that treatment by assisted reproduction " is not a strong independent risk factor" - Lyall K, Baker A, Hertz-Picciotto I, Walker CK. Infertility and its treatments in association with autism spectrum disorders: a review and results from the CHARGE study. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2013; 10: 3715-34.

Related Stories

Childless women with fertility problems at higher risk of hospitalization for psychiatric disorders

July 2, 2012
While many small studies have shown a relationship between infertility and psychological distress, reporting a high prevalence of anxiety, mood disorders and depressive symptoms, few have studied the psychological effect ...

Children of older dads more likely to suffer mental illness, study shows

January 22, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Children with older fathers are more susceptible to mental health disorders a University of Queensland (UQ) study has found.

First-trimester induced abortion not associated with increased risk of psychiatric readmission

February 6, 2012
First-time first-trimester induced abortion is not associated with an increased risk of readmission to psychiatric facilities among women with a history of a treated mental disorder, according to a report in the February ...

Five-fold increase in ADHD medication use in children and adolescents

September 10, 2013
Use of stimulant medications to treat Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents has increased significantly over the past several years. This trend toward increased use of prescription stimulants ...

Childhood functional stomach pain ups risk for later anxiety

August 12, 2013
(HealthDay)—Children with functional abdominal pain (FAP) are at greater risk for anxiety disorders as they get older, according to research published online Aug. 12 in Pediatrics.

Study links unexpected death of a loved one with onset of psychiatric disorders

May 29, 2014
The sudden loss of a loved one can trigger a variety of psychiatric disorders in people with no history of mental illness, according to researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and colleagues at ...

Recommended for you

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

Reducing sessions of trauma-focused psychotherapy does not affect effectiveness

January 17, 2018
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) patients treated with as few as five sessions of trauma-focused psychotherapy find it equally effective as receiving 12 sessions.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.