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Pathologic maternal and neonatal outcomes associated with programmed embryo transfer.

PURPOSE: In this first of two companion papers, we critically review the evidence recently published in the primary literature, which addresses adverse maternal and neonatal pregnancy outcomes associated with programmed embryo transfer cycles. We next consider whether these pathological pregnancy outcomes might be attributable to traditional risk factors, unknown parental factors, embryo culture, culture duration, or cryopreservation. Finally, in the second companion article, we explore potential etiologies and suggest strategies for prevention.

METHODS: Comprehensive review of primary literature.

RESULTS: The preponderance of retrospective and prospective observational studies suggests that increased risk for hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP) and preeclampsia in assisted reproduction involving autologous embryo transfer is associated with programmed cycles. For autologous frozen embryo transfer (FET) and singleton live births, the risk of developing HDP and preeclampsia, respectively, was less for true or modified natural and stimulated cycles relative to programmed cycles: OR 0.63 [95% CI (0.57-0.070)] and 0.44 [95% CI (0.40-0.50)]. Though data are limited, the classification of preeclampsia associated with programmed autologous FET was predominantly late-onset or term disease. Other adverse pregnancy outcomes associated with autologous FET, especially programmed cycles, included increased prevalence of large for gestational age infants and macrosomia, as well as higher birth weights. In one large registry study, FET was associated with fetal overgrowth of a symmetrical nature. Postterm birth and placenta accreta not associated with prior cesarean section, uterine surgery, or concurrent placenta previa were also associated with autologous FET, particularly programmed cycles. The heightened risk of these pathologic pregnancy outcomes in programmed autologous FET does not appear to be attributable to traditional risk factors, unknown parental factors, embryo culture, culture duration, or cryopreservation, although the latter may contribute a modest degree of increased risk for fetal overgrowth and perhaps HDP and preeclampsia in FET irrespective of the endometrial preparation.

CONCLUSIONS: Programmed autologous FET is associated with an increased risk of several, seemingly diverse, pathologic pregnancy outcomes including HDP, preeclampsia, fetal overgrowth, postterm birth, and placenta accreta. Though the greater risk for preeclampsia specifically associated with programmed autologous FET appears to be well established, further research is needed to substantiate the limited data currently available suggesting that the classification of preeclampsia involved is predominately late-onset or term. If substantiated, then this knowledge could provide insight into placental pathogenesis, which has been proposed to differ between early- and late-onset or term preeclampsia (see companion paper for a discussion of potential mechanisms). If a higher prevalence of preeclampsia with severe features as suggested by some studies is corroborated in future investigations, then the danger to maternal and fetal/neonatal health is considerably greater with severe disease, thus increasing the urgency to find preventative measures. Presupposing significant overlap of these diverse pathologic pregnancy outcomes within subjects who conceive by programmed embryo transfer, there may be common etiologies.

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