Children born through the assisted reproductive technology known as in-vitro fertilization (IVF) may be at increased risk for high blood pressure as adolescents.
That’s according to a recently published study.
In 2012, the same team of researchers discovered that kids born via IVF had greater blood vessel rigidity at high altitudes.
Since then, other researchers have concluded that assisted reproductive technology induces intrauterine cardiac remodeling that persists until a child is around 3 years old.
People conceived via IVF also seem to be more susceptible to developing insulin resistance.
In the latest study, researchers looked at 54 children conceived via IVF when they were a mean age of 16 years and compared them to 43 control participants at a mean age of 17 years.
Their blood levels with lipids and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein were normal and comparable, as were birth weight and gestational age.
Maternal body mass index, maternal smoking status, and overall maternal cardiovascular risk profile were also similar.
However, researchers found that IVF-induced premature vascular aging persists in apparently healthy young adults without any detectable classical cardiovascular risk factor.
The condition then progresses to arterial hypertension, the authors stated in their report.
What’s causing this?
Dr. Emrush Rexhaj, one of the researchers on the recent study, said that genetic components that regulate the cardiovascular system are likely the pathway that causes children conceived through IVF to experience high blood pressure later in life.
These alterations are related to assisted reproductive technology and not to other factors such as sterility and hormonal stimulation, Rexhaj told Healthline. He studied that topic in mice in 2013.
Dr. Michael Miller, a cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center, agreed that the reason for high blood pressure was likely due to how genes were expressed during the stressful and unnatural conditions that can occur with IVF.
“We might also see differences in cholesterol, glucose, and other metabolic parameters later in life,” Miller told Healthline.
Those factors were not studied in the new research.
Dr. Serena Chen, a New Jersey doctor who specializes in reproductive medicine and was only able to view a study abstract, noted that the risks with IVF are due to parental risk factors and multiple birth.
If the parents are healthy and only use single embryo transfers, most of the excess risk could be eliminated, Chen told Healthline.
“For example, we know that maternal obesity can impact the fetal cardiac system in a way that predisposes them to higher risks for cardiovascular disease,” she said. “Could maternal obesity rather than IVF account for the increase in blood pressure?”
Chen noted that couples using IVF tend to be older and in poorer health, and obesity and age increase the risks for infertility and therefore the need for IVF. Thus, the pool of people conceiving could also be a reason for the results.
“This study raises a lot of questions,” Chen said. “We still need to keep studying IVF children.”
This is also not a reason to stop using IVF, she added.
“I don’t think we should freak out about IVF itself, but I think we should put more resources into research and resources into understanding the relatively poorly understood areas of reproduction, women, children, and diverse populations,” she said.
Rexhaj said that the at-risk population, and their parents, should be mindful of their lifestyle habits.
Children should avoid being overweight, having a sedentary lifestyle, or taking up a smoking habit.
They recommend that adolescents start monitoring their blood pressure between the ages of 16 and 20.
Miller said that he believes there should be better efforts regarding awareness about the results, pending the outcome of a second study that replicates these results.