Can my chronic illness affect my fertility?

Conceiving can be difficult and complicated for some healthy women – add a chronic illness to the mix and the chances of getting pregnant may become smaller

A range of chronic conditions, from heart disease to diabetes, can suppress both ovulation and sperm production, which can make it difficult to get pregnant, some studies show. Thyroid disorders can impact ovulation. Cancer-fighting treatments, including chemotherapy drugs and radiation, can suppress fertility. While causes vary, it may surprise you to learn that men and women are equally likely to have fertility problems. 

About one-third of infertility cases are attributed to female reproductive issues. Male reproductive health accounts for another third. And the remaining third is a combination of the two, or may “have no known cause”, called unexplained infertility. While recent research on women with chronic illnesses who are trying to get pregnant is slim, about a tenth of women facing infertility involves those living with a chronic illness.

Getting pregnant with a chronic disease is possible. But planning around medications, treatments and procedures is important to curtail complicated pregnancies and risks to the mom’s health and the health of their baby. Risk factors for these pregnancies can include preterm birth, small gestational age or growth difficulties for fetuses, and preeclampsia or high blood pressure for mom.

As it stands the rates of chronic illness in women (and men) are increasing rapidly at about 14 per cent each year. As it stands now, three out of five individuals older than 20 years of age have a chronic disease. So when it comes to chronically ill women wanting to conceive now, and in the future, hospitals around the world have had to adopt new practices and partnerships to help them through their pregnancies and possible fertility issues.

While the absolute risk of chronic disease is low, infertility is associated with an increased risk of incident chronic disease compared with a group of non infertile women, but most importantly women should understand that it doesn’t mean that the pregnancy is going to be more difficult with a chronic illness, but usually it does mean that there is a little more planning involved and usually quite a bit more surveillance.

If you live with a chronic condition and you’re trying to start a family, working with a knowledgeable, caring health provider can help guide you and your partner to the best solutions available—and hopefully, a baby.

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