Fertility treatments performed in the UK are among the most risky in Europe, according to data released by the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), reported in the Independent on Sunday. The chances of prospective mothers developing serious complications are reportedly four times greater than in other European countries where a comparative number of fertility treatments are performed. According to the report, Britain has the highest level of ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome (OHSS), the most serious side-effect of IVF treatment.
OHSS can result from follicle stimulating drugs used for egg production and the symptoms include severe bloating, vomiting, kidney failure and, in extremely rare cases, death. An HFEA report found that an estimated one per cent of fertility treatment cycles performed in the UK resulted in severe OHSS. The statistic is small but also hard to accurately track without a central reporting system and still notably higher than other comparable European nations such as France and Germany. The ESHRE statistics revealed that in 2003, Germany performed three times as many IVF cycles as the UK but the UK still had almost three times more cases of OHSS. In 2004, French clinics reportedly had an OHSS rate that was a quarter of British clinics despite performing twice as many IVF cycles.
'Women considering IVF should have a full and frank discussion with their clinician about the risks involved and about what other treatment approaches might be suitable, such as newer techniques like in vitro maturation (IVM) or soft IVF (using fewer drugs),' the HFEA stated in the article. Dr Geeta Nargund, president of the International Society for Mild Approaches in Assisted Reproduction, feels the OHSS statistics 'raise alarm' but that the UK is 'moving towards safer fertility treatment' with increased implementation of 'soft' and 'natural' IVF alternatives that aim to reduce the risk of OHSS.
The media coverage of the ESHRE report comes just before a major international fertility conference beginning on Thursday in London, which will evaluate alternatives to make fertility treatments safer, including recent reduced-drug treatment options. According to the newspaper, many European experts believe that UK clinics are too results-driven and jeopardise women's health for the sake of achieving pregnancies. Dr Karl Nygren, chairman of the International Committee on the Monitoring of Assisted Reproductive Technology, said: 'when it comes to measuring success of fertility treatments there are two measures: efficacy and safety. In the UK, you are good on efficacy - your success rates are in the top 10 countries - but your safety record is low'.