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Maternal death rates are higher after in vitro fertilization

January 27, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
  • An egg awaits fertilization with sperm during in vitro fertilization.
An egg awaits fertilization with sperm during in vitro fertilization. (Los Angeles Times )

Maternal mortality is rare. But the rates are increasing in the United States and elsewhere for a number of reasons. In an editorial published Thursday, British researchers point out that in-vitro-fertilization-related pregnancies are an additional risk factor for maternal death.

The major causes of death to new mothers are rare catastrophes, such as hemorrhage and blood clots. The incidence of these problems is increasing, possibly because more pregnant women today have health problems, such as diabetes, obesity or some other chronic condition. Mothers are generally older today too. The new report, published in the British Medical Journal, notes that IVF presents additional risks such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which occurs when fertility drugs cause the ovaries to swell, as well as risks related to multiple-gestation pregnancies.

For example, a study from the Netherlands found the overall death rate in IVF pregnancies was 42 per 100,000 women compared with six deaths per 100,000 in all pregnancies.

Although IVF is still considered very safe, more research should be done to evaluate maternal safety in IVF, said the authors of the report, from the United Kingdom. And women should be thoroughly advised about the risks of IVF before treatment. "Better information is unlikely to deter many women, but they are entitled to know the risks before starting fertility treatment," the authors wrote. "More stringent attention to stimulation regimens, preconceptual care and pregnancy management is needed so that maternal death and severe morbidity do not worsen further."

Related: Rising maternal mortality rate causes alarm, calls for action

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