Autoimmune Conditions that Affect Fertility

Autoimmune Conditions that Affect Fertility

There are numerous autoimmune conditions that can affect one’s ability to be able to conceive. Autoimmune conditions are those where the body’s own immune system produces proteins, called autoantibodies, which attack normal cells and tissues. We’re not entirely sure why this occurs but certain factors have been theorized such as previous infections, especially viral ones, and environmental and genetic issues seem to play a role in the development of these conditions.

Women are also more likely than men to develop autoimmune diseases. The reasons may be as follows:

  • Women have a more advanced immune system than men which allows them to recover faster from acute illnesses. However, this does allow the possibility for something to go wrong during the functioning of the immune system thereby increasing the chances of developing an autoimmune disease.
  • Sex chromosome differences also seem to play a role although further research is needed to test this theory further. The hypothesis is that since certain autoimmune conditions are linked to the presence of an X chromosome, women are at a higher risk of developing such an autoimmune condition because they have two X chromosomes and men have only one, thereby reducing their risk because their other Y chromosome offers protection.

Autoimmune Conditions Affecting Fertility

The following are just some of the most common autoimmune conditions that make it more difficult for women and men to conceive.

  • Endometriosis – this condition has many autoimmune components associated with it including elevated inflammatory markers such as cytokines. The condition is also linked to the development of B and T-cell dysfunction which leads to immune system abnormalities as well as cellular death and tissue damage.
  • Autoimmune thyroid disease – antithyroid antibodies have been linked with an increased risk of pregnancy loss. The condition, even in the absence of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), has been associated with infertility and even a decreased response to fertility treatment. Autoimmune thyroid disease may result in either an over or underactive thyroid.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Raynaud’s syndrome and Sjogren’s syndrome – these conditions are associated with the presence of antinuclear antibodies which are linked to infertility.
  • Addison’s disease – the condition is associated with dysfunction of the adrenal glands due to antibodies damaging these organs and is linked to the production of anti-ovarian antibodies that end up causing ovarian dysfunction thus affecting fertility.
  • Celiac disease – caused by an allergy to gluten, the body reacts by producing antibodies that attack and damage the lining of the small intestine. This leads to nutritional deficiencies that increase the risk of infertility as well as recurrent miscarriages and pregnancy complications.
  • Antiphospholipid syndrome – this condition is caused by an immune reaction against certain fats in the bloodstream called phospholipids which results in the blood becoming hypercoagulable (thicker). The condition has been associated not only with recurrent miscarriages in affected women but also a reproductive failure.

Anti-sperm antibodies – a condition that can occur in either men or women, anti-sperm antibodies can be found in men after a vasectomy procedure and this makes reversing the procedure very difficult. These antibodies can make it difficult for sperm to travel since they attach to their tails as well as make it difficult for the sex cells to penetrate the egg.

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