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Is Autism Caused By Fertility Treatment?

In the latest media barrage on autism, fertility treatment has come into question as a possible cause for this increasingly common developmental disorder. The reason is two research abstracts recently presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia.

One study assessed the history of IVF (in vitro fertilization) among 574 children evaluated at a special center for autism in Israel. The researchers found that 10% of the group diagnosed as autistic had had IVF, compared to a background rate in the overall population which they quote as 3.5%. Not surprisingly, maternal age was higher in the IVF group and the rate of prematurity was higher in the autistic children.

The second study was a look into a pre-existing database — the Nurse’s Health Study — which collects data from a cohort of nurses over time. The researchers compared the reproductive history reported by women who also reported having a child with autism and compared it to that of women who did not report having an autistic child. Of those with autistic children, 48% reported infertility with 34% having used ovulation inducing drugs, compared with 33% and 24%, respectively, in women without autistic children, a difference that was statistically significant when controlled for maternal age and self-reported pregnancy complications.

A Time article getting a lot of media play calls the results of the second study “some of the strongest evidence to date” linking autism to fertility treatment. Unfortunately, that’s just not true. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Blog that Ate Manhattan*

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