Autoimmune Disease and Infertility: How Are They Connected?
If you struggle with infertility, you are not alone. About 10% of women in America (6.1 million) have trouble getting or staying pregnant. When treating infertility, doctors often focus solely on the reproductive system. Our bodies, however, are comprised of eleven systems that work together to maintain a healthy, functioning body. When one system is not working properly, it can cause other systems to malfunction as well. This is particularly true of autoimmune disorders, in which the body attacks itself. Autoimmune disease is also 3 times more common in women than in men, so it is important to understand the connection between autoimmune disease and infertility.
What is Autoimmune Disease?
The role of the immune system is to protect the body from foreign invaders, such as germs, viruses and bacteria. In someone with an autoimmune disorder, the immune system mistakes part of the body – like joints, skin, or organs – for a foreign body and attacks these healthy cells. Some autoimmune diseases only target one organ (for example, type 1 diabetes attacks the pancreas), while others – like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) – damage the whole body.
What is the Link Between Autoimmune Disease and Infertility?
There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases, but four in particular are known to have significant impact on fertility:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Graves’ disease
- Hashimoto’s disease
When type 1 diabetes is not well controlled, it can cause irregular or absent menstrual cycles in women and lower levels of testosterone and erectile dysfunction in men. This can make it extremely difficult to become pregnant. When uncontrolled, diabetes also increases the risk of miscarriage and still birth as well as the risk of caesarean section and the baby needing intensive care after birth.
For patients with type 1 diabetes, it is recommended that you consult your doctor 3 to 6 months before trying to conceive. Getting your disease under control, being otherwise healthy, and maintaining a healthy diet and regular physical exercise can help you have a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
Lupus (SLE) affects multiple systems, including the reproductive and renal systems. Most women with lupus experience abnormal menstruation and hormone levels, making it difficult to become pregnant. Lupus can also damage the kidneys, so it is important to have your renal function checked as pregnancy puts increased stress on the kidneys.
For patients with lupus who are trying to get pregnant, it is recommended that your disease be under control (no flare-ups) for at least six months before trying to get pregnant. This greatly increases your chances for a healthy, successful pregnancy. You should also review your medications with your doctor, as some should not be used during pregnancy.
Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s disease are both autoimmune thyroid disorders. Graves’ disease causes an overproduction of thyroid hormones, leading to hyperthyroidism, while Hashimoto’s can cause an underproduction of thyroid hormones, triggering hypothyroidism. Because the thyroid plays a key role in menstruation, even mild thyroid disease can reduce pregnancy rates and increase the risk of miscarriage. Restoring balance to your thyroid with bioidentical hormone therapy brings your body back into balance, potentially increasing your fertility and allowing your body to have a healthy pregnancy.
Anchor Wellness Center Treats Autoimmune Disease and Infertility
If you suffer from autoimmune disease and infertility, call Anchor Wellness today at (832) 246-8437 and schedule a consultation with Dr. Minni Malhotra, MD, FAARM, ABAARM. As a Board Certified physician, both in Family Medicine and with the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Malhotra can help you get your autoimmune disease under control. Our holistic approach to wellness treats the whole body to restore optimal health. Our caring and compassionate staff investigates the root causes of fertility challenges and empowers our patients to take charge of their fertility with tailored programs that address individual needs.