Professor Michael Davies will tell the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology today (Wednesday) that the "vanishing twin" phenomenon, in which only one child is born from a pregnancy that originally starts as a multiple pregnancy, is linked to a nearly two-fold increased risk in any congenital malformation and to a nearly three-fold risk of multiple malformations.
Prof Davies, who is an Associate Professor and co-director of the Research Centre for the Early Origins of Health and Disease at the University of Adelaide, Australia, will say: "Our findings show that a 'vanishing twin' is a significant risk factor for congenital malformations in the surviving baby. This discovery means that we can now investigate what factors are occurring earlier in the process that could be influencing embryo development and loss. This has significant potential for advancing our understanding of the origins of congenital malformation, not just after infertility treatment, but also in spontaneously conceived pregnancies."
It is difficult to study what factors in early pregnancy might be causing congenital malformations such as heart and skeletal defects and cerebral palsy. This is because, in the general population, the majority of pregnancy losses, including vanishing twins, occur in the early days and weeks of pregnancy, often before the woman even knows that she is pregnant. The first ultrasound scans are usually carried out at around six to eight weeks. However, in women undergoing fertility treatment, early pregnancy is much easier to study because doctors know exactly when eggs were fertilised and transferred to the woman's womb, and this is followed by close monitoring with pregnancy tests and ultrasounds from the very beginning.
Prof Davies and his team studied data from all assisted reproductive technology (ART) cycles that took place in South Australia between January 1986 and December 2002, and linked them
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European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology