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Popular Infertility Treatment May Carry Unacceptably High Risk of Multiple Births

Medical researchers studying infertility treatments now conclude that the most common procedure is also one of the riskiest.


The big problem, cited in the July 6 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), is multiple births. CBS's Elizabeth Kaledin reported on the procedure and new questions surrounding it for the Evening News.


Infertile couples have a variety of treatment choices today. By far, the most commonly used procedure is ovarian stimulation, which is the use of drugs to induce the ovaries to release eggs.


Now some doctors are saying that first choice is no longer the best choice. Remember the McCaughey family? They chose ovarian stimulation, and the result was seven babies. Some say the procedure can be linked to an alarming increase in high-risk multiple pregnancies.


"It is time to rethink the way we are doing things," says Dr. Norbert Gleisher of the Center for Human Reproduction, with locations in Chicago and New York. Gleisher is also author of the NEJM study.


He and his colleagues found that in vitro fertilization--fertilizing eggs outside of the body and then implanting them--increases the odds of pregnancy and lowers of the risk of multiple births.


"The patient and we control that risk because we decide together how many embryos are to be transferred into the woman's uterus," Gleisher says. In vitro fertilization offers a 40% success rate, compared to a 15% success rate with ovarian stimulation.


Fertility expert Dr. Eric Widra agrees, saying huge advances in in vitro technology are making it a better choice. "


"In vitro fertilization is no longer the treatment of last resort," Widra says.


In vitro fertilization is more expensive--in some cases more than twice the cost--but to doctors, the risks associated with uncontrolled multiple pregnancies exact a higher price.


The leading complication from multiple pregnancies is prematurity, which can lead to disability. The cost of caring for even one premature baby can reach into the millions of dollars.


That thought terrified Pascale Karras.


"Deafness, blindness--to me it was a situation that seemed really unbearable," Karras says.


But Karras was lucky. She's having just one baby. Doctors hope to see more stories like hers if in vitro becomes the standard of care.

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