HealthDay News — Children conceived through assisted reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization, are twice as likely to have autism as those conceived without assistance, a new study finds. But researchers only found an association, which may be explained by multiple births and other risks, not the infertility treatment itself, experts said.
The study included nearly 6 million children born from 1997 to 2007. After taking into account factors such as mother’s education and multiple births, the increased risk was seen only for mothers under 35, the researchers said.
“The risk of autism appears to be largely modifiable by restricting IVF to single-embryo transfer,” said lead researcher Peter Bearman, PhD, a professor of social sciences at Columbia University in New York City.
Bearman added that there was no significant increased risk of the neurodevelopmental disorder for children of women who gave birth to one child.
For the study, Bearman’s team collected data on 5.9 million California births, including 48,865 infants conceived through assisted reproduction, and 32,922 children with autism. Researchers compared the incidence of autism in births that involved advanced infertility treatment and those that didn’t.
The results, which were published in the American Journal of Public Health, aren’t a condemnation of IVF technology, as the study did not prove a cause-and-effect link.
“There is an association between IVF and autism, but when we control for the characteristics of women who are more likely to use IVF, for example, age and social status, this association is lessened significantly,” Bearman said.
Bearman P, et al. Association Between Assisted Reproductive Technology Conception and Autism in California, 1997–2007. Am J Public Health. 2015; doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302383.