Why Proper Birth Control Is Important For Those With Autoimmune Diseases

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, autoimmune diseases are common and affect over 23.5 million people in the U.S. If you have an autoimmune condition, your immune system mistakenly attacks your body, according to HealthlineMedline Plus notes that over 80 different types of autoimmune disorders exist, including lupus and reactive arthritis. The source further states that there's no specific cause of autoimmune disorders. While theories link autoimmune disorders to microorganisms like bacteria, some drugs may cause your immune system to turn on itself, leading to an autoimmune disease. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases also notes that genetics play a role in making you more susceptible to developing an autoimmune condition.

If you're pregnant and have an autoimmune condition, it's best to have regular health checkups and report any unusual symptoms to your doctor to ensure a safe pregnancy. Johns Hopkins Medicine states that about 80% of people with autoimmune diseases are women. This further reiterates the need to discuss any risks with your doctor when planning a pregnancy.

Why being pregnant with an autoimmune condition is risky

A 2022 study published in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine reiterates that the risk of autoimmune diseases is higher in women. The study further notes that over 4,230 mothers out of a total of 477,243 births in New South Wales, Australia, had at least one autoimmune disease during pregnancy.

According to WebMD, lupus, multiple sclerosis, systemic scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, and myasthenia gravis are some of the most common autoimmune diseases in pregnant women. Lupus increases the risk of fetal death or preterm labor, while the effects of rheumatoid arthritis on the lower spine and hip joints can be painful. Still, pregnant women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can see improvements in their symptoms during the second and third trimesters.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society states that pregnant women living with multiple sclerosis may experience aggravated symptoms like fatigue, and bladder problems, with mobility challenges worsening as the baby becomes heavier. Medical News Today also warns MS can damage the pelvic muscles and nerves, making it harder to naturally push babies out. Pregnant women with MS might require assisted delivery or cesarean section (C-section).

Steps to ensure a safe pregnancy

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) can make it difficult to carry a pregnancy or deliver your child, especially if you have unrecognized symptoms. For this reason, the source recommends frequent prenatal visits for doctors to effectively monitor your health and that of the fetus. Doctors often recommend steroids or anti-inflammatory drugs to help pregnant women with MS symptoms. However, Medical News Today reveals that the FDA hasn't approved any medications or disease-modifying therapies, so pregnant women with MS must discuss these risks with their doctors. 

If you have lupus, a huge part of your baby's safe delivery depends on conceiving at the right time and adopting best practices to keep complications at bay, as stated by the Hospital for Special Surgery. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also advises women with lupus to plan effectively before conception. The condition should be in remission for six months before getting pregnant to avoid miscarriage or stillbirth.

Safe and normal deliveries among pregnant women with rheumatoid arthritis are common, with about 70% to 80% of women seeing improvements in their conditions during pregnancy (via WebMD). The Arthritis Foundation also says women attempting to get pregnant must talk to a rheumatologist to help control the condition for three to six months before pregnancy, since complications may arise in those with uncontrolled rheumatoid arthritis.