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Women and babies 'put at risk by aggressive IVF'


AGGRESSIVE fertility treatments practised at IVF clinics in the UK are putting women and babies at risk, experts say.

Unnecessary procedures, high doses of powerful drugs and risky interventions are being employed as couples spend thousands of pounds trying to conceive, it was reported.

Experts say a milder and safer approach to IVF is available that could provide equivalent success rates over a longer period and at a lower cost and the UK is lagging behind in adopting this approach.

Professor Geeta Nargund, head of reproductive medicine at St George's Hospital in south London, voiced her concerns at a conference in Copenhagen.

She said there was increasing evidence that the standard method of IVF used in Britain, which involves stimulating the ovaries with high doses of drugs to produce large numbers of eggs for harvesting, was damaging to women's health and caused chromosomal abnormalities to resulting embryos, a newspaper reported.

Professor Nargund said: "High-dose stimulation can have distressing side effects on the woman, the most serious of which is called ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome (OHSS).

"This condition in its severe form is potentially fatal and women have died. A recent confidential inquiry into maternal deaths in the UK showed that OHSS was now one of the biggest causes of maternal mortality in England and Wales.

"There is no doubt that women subjected to this kind of stimulation are at serious health risk."

Figures obtained using freedom of information laws from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) showed that there were almost 30,000 cases of OHSS - which can cause chest pains, shortness of breath, and in rare cases, kidney failure and death - between 1991 and 2007 in the UK, The Independent reported.

In 2010, 45,000 women were given IVF treatment in the UK.

Using "mild" IVF with less toxic drugs to stimulate the ovaries produces fewer eggs and a lower pregnancy rate per cycle but means recovery is quicker and women can repeat the treatment within a month, whereas it takes months to recover from standard IVF.

While clinics in Scandinavia, Belgium, Holland, France, Canada, Japan and South Korea use mild IVF, the high-dose version is favoured the US and the UK.

Professor Nargund said: "The aim should be to do no harm to the mother and the child. If we continue with expensive, aggressive, old-fashioned IVF it will exclude too many from treatment.

"We could double the number of patients treated at no extra cost and the complications would be less."