Be still, my beating heart: Does fertility treatment increase your risk for heart disease? The latest results from a large Canadian study made everyone’s heart skip a beat with its recent findings. The data showed an increased risk in heart disease in women who required fertility treatment to get pregnant. And while this study got a lot of press, before you have a heart attack, here are five things that you should know:
- Even with the increased risk reported in the study, the absolute numbers are very low (a.k.a. the number of women who experienced cardiovascular events was pretty small). While we aren’t turning a blind eye or a deaf ear to the results, we are interpreting them with caution.
- IVF in the 1990s and IVF in 2017 are VERY different. The treatment protocols and techniques have changed more than the fashion trends (#bellbottoms). Therefore, it’s nearly impossible to study the aftereffects of treatments given then to the aftereffects of treatments given now. Our medications are different, our stimulation styles are different, and our dosages are different. In fact, it’s hard to find anything that’s the same!
- When analyzing any research study, it’s important to distinguish between correlation and causation. Although they may sound the same and start with the same letter, they are very different in what they suggest and what they mean for you. When you think of causation, think of cigarettes and lung cancer: We all know cigarettes cause lung cancer. When you think of correlation, think of cigarettes and infertility. Cigarettes do not specifically cause infertility, but they have been associated with infertility. In this study, fertility treatment has been correlated with heart disease (to a modest effect), but fertility treatment has not been demonstrated to cause heart disease. And although the distinction may seem insignificant, it’s actually pretty important!
- Anyone who is going to undergo fertility treatment should be in good shape. While you don’t need to join us for regular 5:30AM workouts, you do need to be in good health. Pregnancy is no walk in the park; you want your body to be prepared for those nine months and the many months that follow!
- The primary outcome studied was “adverse cardiovascular events.” The authors lumped stroke, TIA (think of it as a temporary stroke), MI (a.k.a. heart attack), and heart failure altogether. And while they all may affect your heart and your brain, they are not all the same. By opening up the floodgates (or adding more diseases to the primary endpoint), you will almost certainly capture more women who fall into the “I got that disease” category. So, while more women who took fertility medications may have gotten the primary outcome, the primary outcome was pretty expansive.
Your heart is as important as your ovaries, your uterus, and your fallopian tubes to us fertility doctors. While we may seem to have a one-track mind (#makingbabies), we are not only focused on your fertility but also your future health. Therefore, we will keep following the latest scientific breakthroughs and bring them to you hot off the press. We cross our hearts!