Women who undergo in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or other infertility treatments are not more likely to have a child with autism, according to a new review. Although some studies have found slight associations between autism and certain infertility procedures, the latest more comprehensive analysis indicates no increased risk.
During IVF, mature eggs are collected from a woman's ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab. Then the fertilized egg or eggs are implanted in the woman's uterus.
Researchers reviewed 14 previous studies on infertility treatments and autism. Some showed a slight increased risk of autism in children born to mothers who underwent certain infertility treatments. For example, a study from Finland indicated that children born to mothers who had undergone IVF were more likely to be developmentally delayed, although autism was not singled out as a disability.
Some of the 14 studies the researchers analyzed had limitations. For example, four had small numbers of participants, which makes it difficult to draw definite conclusions. Additionally, four of the studies looked only at "behavior disorders" in children born to women who had undergone IVF -- not autism.
The researchers also analyzed a more promising study, the "Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment," or "CHARGE," comparing 537 children with autism and 381 "typically developing" children without autism born to mothers who received fertility treatments to conceive. The population-based, case-control study is ongoing in several regions of California.
Researchers used the CHARGE data to determine the type of fertility treatments the mothers used. Common diagnoses in both groups of women were endometriosis and ovulatory dysfunction. The women underwent a variety of treatments, including IVF, taking medications such as progesterone, and artificial insemination, where sperm is placed directly in a woman's vagina or uterus.
When evaluating the CHARGE data, the researchers found no increased risk of autism in the children of women who had undergone any of the fertility treatments.
"The results of this case-control study do not provide evidence for an association between fertility therapies and autism spectrum disorders," they explain. "We examined a number of different types of therapies and conditions underlying the infertility being treated, and overall found remarkable similarity between [autism] cases and typically developing" children.