Women with RA may Face Challenges Conceiving

March 23, 2011

A new study suggests a correlation between Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and women who have a difficult time conceiving.

A new study suggests a correlation between Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and women who have a difficult time conceiving.

The study was published in Arthritis & Rheumatism and was performed on 68,170 Danish women who became pregnant between the years1996 and 2002; 112 of these women were diagnosed with RA before their pregnancy.

Of these women, 25 percent with RA had endured failed attempts to become pregnant for at least one year before finally succeeding, with 10 percent of them having received treatment for infertility.

In comparison, only 16 percent of the 68,170 participants without RA required that much time to conceive and fewer than 8 percent were given infertility treatment.

Women with RA also were less likely to conceive within the initial 2 months of attempting; 41 percent did, versus 48 percent of women without RA.

It was reported that, after researchers added outside factors into the equation, such as age and body weight, women with RA were 60 percent more likely than the women without the disease to require more than a year to conceive.

What is unclear, however, is whether it is the disease itself that makes conceiving for these women so difficult or if the blame belongs to the drugs they use to treat RA.

"We do not know whether the longer time to pregnancy is caused specifically by RA or its treatment," said lead researcher Dr. Damini Jawaheer, of Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute in Oakland, California.

One factor, as Jawaheer reported, is that women with RA are usually told to stop taking their disease-modifying-anti-rheumatics drugs (DMARDS) when they wish to attempt conception, such as methotrexate, etanercept, and infliximab; their reasoning for this action is that some of these drugs are known to cause birth defects, and other drugs are too new to have sufficient evidence regarding their safety for pregnant women.

With no drugs in their systems, Jawaheer stated, a flare-up may occur that could potentially cause difficulty to become pregnant.

"However," Jawaheer said, "additional work is needed to investigate this and other potential causes further."

She also added that "it may be a good idea for young women with RA not to delay their plans to conceive until the late reproductive years."

On the whole, Jawaheer was happy to report that most women suffering from RA were able to conceive.