Do Autoimmune Diseases Affect Pregnancy?
Living with the diagnosis of an autoimmune disease can be difficult. It can be scary to think about how autoimmune diseases can affect your chances of getting pregnant. You might even wonder whether you will be able to get pregnant at all.
It is essential to understand what to expect when you are trying to get pregnant with a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease. Planning can help you be better prepared for any challenges you might have to face while getting pregnant. This post will try to understand how autoimmune diseases affect your body when you are trying to conceive.
What is an autoimmune disease?
Our immune system is very important to keep our bodies healthy and protect us from microbial attacks. The immune system can identify ‘self’ and ‘non-self.’ In other words, our immune system attacks and eliminates the invading microbes such as bacteria, viruses, etc., but spares the body’s cells. However, in certain situations, the body fails to distinguish between the ‘self’ and ‘non-self’ and starts to attack its cells, causing widespread damage.
Such a medical condition in which the body’s immune system mistakes its cells for intruders is called an autoimmune disorder. Women tend to be more vulnerable to developing autoimmune disease 78% of people with autoimmune disease are women. There is a significant body of evidence suggesting that autoimmune diseases run in the family and have a genetic component.
The symptoms of an autoimmune disease depend on the type of cells involved and the extent of the damage. Certain symptoms are commonly seen in many autoimmune disorders irrespective of the cells or organs involved. Some of these symptoms include-
- Feeling fatigued
- Joint pain
- Problems in the digestive system
- Swollen glands
Several types of autoimmune diseases can attack different cells and organs of the body. In the following sections of this post, we will take a closer look at some of the most commonly diagnosed autoimmune diseases and how they can affect your chances of getting pregnant.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus And Pregnancy
Known as Lupus, or SLE for short is an autoimmune disease that affects the body’s connective tissue. As connective tissue is present everywhere in the body, Lupus can have a wide variety of symptoms in different women.
One of the earliest symptoms in people with Lupus is the feeling of extreme tiredness and fatigue. A sense of being ‘unwell,’ also known as general malaise, is also experienced by many patients. Some people might also develop a rash that resembles a butterfly on the bridge of their nose.
As the disease progresses, other organs of the body can get affected as well. About 50% of patients diagnosed with Lupus tend to develop kidney issues, and about a third of patients develop lung problems.
There is new research from studies in mice that have presented new evidence that the changes in the mother’s microbiome during pregnancy can lead to further flare-ups to be more severe.
Rheumatoid Arthritis And Pregnancy
Rheumatoid arthritis autoimmune disease, affects the body’s skeletal system, the joints, to be precise. The most commonly affected joints in rheumatoid arthritis include the joints of the wrist, knee, and ankles. The disease affects the joints by causing inflammation, which can be painful.
The pain due to rheumatoid arthritis generally is transient that comes and goes in an episodic manner. Rheumatoid arthritis episodes can cause extreme bilateral pain (pain in both wrists, both knees, etc.) and joint stiffness that can worsen in the mornings.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and pain can reduce or disappear during pregnancy. During pregnancy, there is an anti-inflammatory effect throughout the body that can suppress flareups. labour is partly triggered by an inflammatory response which can lead to you being hit with a large flare-up of symptoms after delivery.
If the disease progresses without intervention, it can spread to another part of the body apart from the joints. The risk of having a heart attack and stroke double if left untreated. It can also cause problems with other organs, including the eyes and lungs.
Scleroderma And Pregnancy
Like Lupus, Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease that affects the connective tissue of the body. There are two forms of Scleroderma, affecting only a localized body part while the other affects the entire body.
One of the most common symptoms of the condition is the thickening of the skin. In the localized form of Scleroderma, the thickening is confined to only a few locations, but if the disease is systemic, the thickening may be present over a wide area.
Apart from the more widespread thickening of the skin, the systemic form of Scleroderma also affects certain internal organs. Some of the organs that get affected include the digestive tract, kidneys, lungs, and heart. Other symptoms of the disease include heartburn and hypertension, among others.
Thyroid Disease And Pregnancy
The thyroid is an important endocrine gland present in the neck region of the body and produces hormones that control your metabolic rate. The two most common autoimmune diseases that affect the thyroid are Hashimoto’s disease and Grave’s disease.
An undeceive thyroid characterizes Hashimoto’s disease. People diagnosed with this condition tend to produce fewer thyroid hormones than normal. It leads to slowing down the body’s metabolism and symptoms such as weight gain, sensitivity to colder temperatures, etc.
Grave’s disease is the exact opposite of Hashimoto’s disease. Your thyroid is overactive in this medical condition and produces more thyroid hormones than in normal individuals. The increase in thyroid hormones results in an increased heartbeat, sensitivity to heat, and rapid weight loss.
How do autoimmune diseases affect fertility?
Women who are diagnosed with autoimmune diseases in their childbearing age can see some impact on their pregnancies. While most women with autoimmune diseases have a normal pregnancy, some women might see some complications.
The specific ways in which autoimmune diseases can affect your fertility are still largely unknown. In some cases, the autoimmune disease produces antibodies in the body that directly attack the ovaries and hamper the ovarian egg reserve. Conditions like Grave’s and Hashimoto’s can impact your menstrual cycle and can negatively affect ovulation.
How can I manage autoimmune issues before TTC?
Keeping your autoimmune disease under control goes a long way in successful pregnancy if you are TTC. Most autoimmune diseases cause a widespread inflammation that is never a good sign for the baby.
Your autoimmune disease is affected by several factors including:
- Gut health
- Sleep quality
- Toxin burden
- Vitamin D status
Ensure that you are consulting with your OBGYN and letting them know about your autoimmune diagnosis before you plan to conceive. You can also include the following positive lifestyle changes to give yourself a better chance to conceive with an autoimmune diagnosis.
Schedule a pre-pregnancy checkup
If you are TTC with an autoimmune diagnosis, ensure that you consult with your OBGYN before you plan to get pregnant. Every case of autoimmune disease is different, and your doctor must be in the know about your specific symptoms and complications if present. Your specialist is the only person in a position to advise you regarding a safe and successful pregnancy. So, make an appointment before you try to conceive.
Follow a healthy lifestyle.
A healthy lifestyle seems to be the answer for most health problems, and there is a lot of scientific evidence supporting it. If you have a healthy weight, you can manage the symptoms of any autoimmune disease rather easily. Your lifestyle plays a crucial role in regulating your menstrual cycle, including ovulation. Hence, you must follow the recommendations of your specialists and try to implement the changes that they suggest if you’re TTC with a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease.
How do autoimmune diseases affect pregnancy?
Although the knowledge about the link between autoimmune diseases and pregnancy is still not understood fully, doctors know certain things. In some women, the symptoms of the autoimmune disease become milder once they are pregnant, while in some others, the symptoms might stay the same or even worsen.
The good thing here is that many women with autoimmune diseases go on to have successful pregnancies that are not affected by complications. Ensure that you consult with your OBGYN regularly and get all the scans and treatments that he/she might suggest.
A special birth plan might be needed in some women with autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease. Women with Crohn’s disease might be advised to go for a C-section rather than a natural birth to protect the intestines from any potential damage.
Some medications used to manage the autoimmune disease are contraindicated during breastfeeding. Hence, you might not be able to breastfeed your newborn if you are on those medications. Your doctor will counsel you regarding this.
As we discussed before, autoimmune diseases run in the family, and hence, your child might be susceptible to developing them. Most of these are diagnosed in young adulthood, so keep an eye out for any symptoms that your child might develop.
Unfortunately, there is no way, test, or scan to know whether your baby will go on to have an autoimmune disease if you have one. However, if you have an autoimmune disease, be prepared for the chance that your baby might develop it in the time to come.
Tips for having a healthy pregnancy if you have an autoimmune disease
Let’s make one thing very clear; you can have a perfectly healthy pregnancy even if you have an autoimmune disease, provided you take care of yourself.
If you are TTC, your OBGYN might want you to reach remission before you conceive. In some cases, the doctors might want you to be in remission for at least six months before you try to get pregnant. If you are in remission, it will lower the risk of any complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
It is equally important that you take all the medications prescribed by your doctor regularly throughout your pregnancy. It is common to worry if the drug might affect the health of your unborn child. If you have any concerns or questions, talk to your doctor before stopping or changing any of your medications.
Finally, try to adopt a healthy lifestyle. It is not only going to help you to conceive but will help you manage your autoimmune disease once the baby arrives. Ensure that you take all the prescribed prenatal vitamins and other supplements that your doctor might have prescribed.
Including a regular exercise routine in your daily life also is a good thing for your overall health. However, consult with your doctor regarding the exercises that you can do during pregnancy.