Cerebral palsy in ART children has declined substantially over time: a Nordic study from the CoNARTaS group

Anne Lærke Spangmose, Lene Hee Christensen, Anna-Karina Aaris Henningsen, Julie Forman, Signe Opdahl, Liv Bente Romundstad, Kate Himmelmann, Christina Bergh, Ulla-Britt Wennerholm, Aila Tiitinen, Mika Gissler, Anja Pinborg


STUDY QUESTION: Are the decreasing multiple birth rates after ART associated with a simultaneous drop in the incidence of cerebral palsy (CP) in ART children over time?

SUMMARY ANSWER: The relative odds of CP in ART children have declined in the Nordic countries over the past two decades concurrently with declining multiple birth rates.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: In the Nordic countries, the rate of twin pregnancies after ART has decreased from 30% in the early 1990s to 4-13% in 2014, following the implementation of elective single embryo transfer (SET). Consequently, preterm birth rates have declined substantially in ART pregnancies. However, whether the risk of CP, a known consequence of preterm birth, has decreased correspondingly is still unknown.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: Retrospective register-based cohort study based on data on all singletons, twins, and higher-order multiples born in Denmark (birth year 1994-2010), Finland (1990-2010), and Sweden (1990-2014), corresponding to 111 844 ART children and 4 679 351 spontaneously conceived children.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIAL, SETTING, METHODS: Data were obtained from a large Nordic cohort of children born after ART and spontaneous conception initiated by the Committee of Nordic ART and Safety-CoNARTaS. The CoNARTaS cohort was established by cross-linking national register data using the unique personal identification number, allocated to every citizen in the Nordic countries. Data from the National Medical Birth Registers, where information on maternal, obstetric, and perinatal outcomes is recorded, were cross-linked to data from the National ART- and Patients Registers to obtain information on fertility treatments and CP diagnoses. Relative risks of CP for ART compared to spontaneous conception were estimated as odds ratios from multivariate logistic regression analyses across all birth years, as well as for the following birth year categories: 1990-1993, 1994-1998, 1999-2002, 2003-2006, 2007-2010, and 2011-2014. Analyses were made for all children and for singletons and twins, separately.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: The main outcome measure was the relative odds of CP in different time periods for ART versus spontaneously conceived children. CP was diagnosed in 661 ART children and 16 478 spontaneously conceived children born between 1990 and 2014. In 1990-1993, the relative odds of CP were substantially higher in all ART children (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 2.76 (95% CI 2.03-3.67)) compared with all spontaneously conceived children, while in 2011-2014, it was only moderately higher (aOR 1.39 (95% CI 1.01-1.87)). In singletons, the higher relative odds of CP in ART children diminished over time from 1990 to 1993 (aOR 2.02 (95% CI 1.22-3.14)) to 2003-2006 (aOR 1.18 (95% CI 0.91-1. 49)) and was not significantly increased for birth cohorts 2007-2010 and 2011-2014. For ART twins versus spontaneously conceived twins, the relative odds of CP was not statistically significantly increased throughout the study period.

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: The main limitation of the study was a shorter follow-up time and younger age at first CP diagnosis for ART children compared with spontaneously conceived children. However, analyses ensuring a minimum of bias from differences in age at CP diagnosis and follow-up time confirmed the results, hence, we do not consider this to cause substantial bias.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: A SET policy in ART treatments has the potential to reduce the increased risk of cerebral palsy in the ART population due to lower rates of multiple deliveries. At a time with high survival rates of frozen/thawed embryos, this study provides a strong argument against the continued use of multiple embryo transfer in most ART settings. Larger cohort studies including also the number of gestational sacs in early pregnancy will be preferable to show an effect of vanishing twins on the risk of CP in the ART population.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): The study was financed by grants from NordForsk (grant number 71450), Elsass Foundation (19-3-0444), the ALF-agreement (ALFGBG 70940), and The Research Fund of Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University Hospital. There are no conflicts of interest to declare.


TidsskriftHuman reproduction (Oxford, England)
Udgave nummer8
Sider (fra-til)2358-2370
Antal sider13
StatusUdgivet - 19 jul. 2021


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