How can fertility doctors continue to do their work knowing that they are possibly putting patients at risk for autism?
Two very interesting studies will be presented on May 20th at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia. I’m looking forward to reading the completed manuscripts when published.
The first study showed that 34 percent of 111 moms with an autistic child had used fertility drugs compared to 24 percent of some 3,900 mothers without an autistic child. Another Israeli study reported that about 10.2 percent of 461 children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder were conceived using IVF, while about 3.5 percent of children in the general Israeli population are conceived that way, according to the study.
How can I continue to do my work if there may even be a remote chance that I’m putting my patients at risk? There are several reasons why I think that women conceiving with fertility drugs may have a higher risk of having an autistic child. I think that the increased risk is likely unrelated to the treatment and due to other factors. Here’s why:
- Women who are carriers for Fragile X syndrome can suffer from infertility. Fragile X syndrome may cause autism in some children. These studies demonstrate how important it is to screen infertile women for Fragile X syndrome pre-pregnancy. Ask your doctor if screening is right for you. It isn’t clear if the moms in the studies were also screened for Fragile X.
- The combination of older paternal age with younger maternal age has been shown (recent UC Davis study) to increase the risk of autism. Many women who use donor eggs are using the eggs of women in their 20s. Eggs less than age 30 combined with paternal age >60 may increase autism risk. The studies have not been presented so we don’t know yet whether they accounted for whether donor eggs were used.
- Studies have shown that older women are at risk of having a child with autism. Older women tend to use fertility treatments more often than young women. So perhaps we are seeing an age effect. This is definitely something that we need to take very seriously as more and more women are delaying childbearing.
Learning more about the relationship between autism and fertility treatments is very important to me. I will continue to update this blog as part of my mission to give all of my patients their highest chance of having a healthy happy baby.