Children conceived through assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF may be at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure early in life, among other heart-related complications, a study has found. Developed in 1978, assisted reproductive technologies (ART) has helped millions of individuals and families who cannot conceive naturally.
The most common ART methods are in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection, which can expose the gamete and embryo to a variety of environmental factors before implantation. Researchers from the University of Bern in Switzerland assessed the circulatory system of 54 young, healthy ART adolescents (mean age 16) by measuring ambulatory blood pressure, as well as plaque build-up, blood vessel function and artery stiffness. Body mass index, birth weight, gestational age, and maternal BMI, smoking status and cardiovascular risk profile were similar between the ART adolescents and 43 age- and sex-matched control participants.
Through 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring, researchers discovered that ART adolescents had both a higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure than the control participants of natural conception. Most importantly, eight of the ART adolescents reached the criteria for the diagnosis of arterial hypertension whereas only one of the control participants met the criteria.
“The increased prevalence of arterial hypertension in ART participants is what is most concerning,” said Emrush Rexhaj, from the University Hospital in Bern, Switzerland. “There is growing evidence that ART alters the blood vessels in children, but the long-term consequences were not known. We now know that this places ART children at a six times higher rate of hypertension than children conceived naturally,” said Rexhaj, lead author of the study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. “It only took five years for differences in arterial blood pressure to show,” Rexhaj said. “This is a rapidly growing population and apparently healthy children are showing serious signs of concern for early cardiovascular risk, especially when it comes to arterial hypertension,” he said.