By Kim Painter, Special for USA TODAY
More U.S. women are attempting to have children using eggs donated by other women and taking home healthy babies as a result, a new study shows.
Fertility clinics reported 18,306 procedures using fresh or frozen donated eggs in 2010, up from 10,801 in 2000, according to the study published online by theJournal of the American Medical Association, orJAMA,and presented Thursday in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the International Federation of Fertility Societies.
Nearly one-quarter of the women who used donor eggs in 2010 ended up with what doctors consider an optimum outcome: a single baby, born after at least 37 weeks of pregnancy, weighing at least 5.5 pounds, the study found. That's up from 18.5% in 2000.
"There's still room for improvement," but the trends are encouraging for couples increasingly looking for ways to extend child-bearing years, says lead author Jennifer Kawwass, a fellow in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta.
Donor eggs often are used by women who are older than 35 and having trouble becoming pregnant because their own viable eggs are in short supply. However, the study shows that traditional in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures - in which women use their own eggs, with sperm from their partner or a donor - remain much more common, comprising 89% of procedures in 2010.
Older women who use their own eggs are less likely to end up with a baby, but "for most people, the desire to have a child that is genetically from both parents is very strong," says Evan Myers, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C. "Donor eggs are still often seen as a last resort."
In an editorial accompanying the study, Myers says the fact that poor birth outcomes did not increase as the ages of egg recipients increased suggests that using donor eggs from younger women may help prevent pregnancy complications usually associated with a woman's age - something that should be further studied.
Recipients had an average of age of 41 and donors an average age of 28 in 2010, about the same as in 2000, the study found.
The study did not look at health effects on donors, who typically are paid $5,000 to $10,000 for undergoing a month of fertility drug treatments and an egg retrieval procedure. Myers says more study is needed, especially to learn how many donors suffer a complication known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome - which can cause rapid weight gain, abdominal pain and other symptoms.
The study did have data on one important safety consideration for recipients and their babies: the number of embryos placed in each prospective mother's womb. Since risks increase with multiple fetuses, the reproductive medicine society recommends that patients and doctors use no more than two embryos and consider using a single embryo when the donor is under age 35. In 2000, single embryos were used less than 1% of the time; in 2010, they were used in 14.5% of cases, the study found.
The fact that most patients still got more than one embryo largely reflects patient preferences, says William Schlaff, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Jefferson University Hospitals, Philadelphia. Schlaff, who was not involved in the study, says many patients are willing to take the risk of having twins to raise their chances of having at least one baby and to decrease costs. Some, he says, are eager for twins: "They come in saying 'We only want to do this once.' "
About 56% of couples who used fresh eggs in 2010 took home babies and two-thirds of those couples had just one baby, Kawwass says. About one third had twins and fewer than 1% had triplets. Two-thirds of the single babies, one-third of the twins and just 1% of triplets were born after 37 weeks and at a healthy weight, she says. The study did not look at similar outcomes for frozen eggs.
Data for the study came from 443 clinics reporting to a registry maintained by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The clinics represent 93% of such facilities in the United States.