How Does Lupus Affect Reproductive Health?

Infertility is an issue that many women struggle with and more often than not they worry about it. If you have systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus) and want to have a baby, it is justified to worry about your illness and how it may complicate that process. Most people with lupus are able to have children and do not experience any fertility issues. However, research also suggests that in a small number of people, fertility may be hindered by conditions associated with lupus.

One prevalent cause of female infertility in lupus is Primary Ovarian Failure (POF), otherwise known as primary ovarian insufficiency, which occurs when the ovaries stop releasing eggs and a woman experiences early menopause before the age of 40. Studies show that approximately 53% of women with lupus under 40 years old had menstrual irregularities that were not linked to lupus medications (some of which can cause fertility issues).

Consultant Rheumatologist and Past President of Lupus Foundation of Jamaica, Dr. Stacy Davis shares more on Sunrise. Watch it here:

Other contributing factors include anti-corpus luteum antibodies (The corpus luteum is developed in the ovary after an egg is released. In lupus patients, the immune system may attack and destroy the corpus luteum, which means the uterus does not thicken and the egg may not be able to implant successfully, resulting in miscarriage) and anti-oocyte antibodies (oocyte cells in the ovaries develop into an egg however the immune system may produce antibodies that destroy these cells).

Lupus can affect male fertility in several ways. Some studies have stated that finding anti-sperm antibodies, however, some have been found in some healthy fertile men as well. It is believed that they may contribute to infertility but are not solely responsible for it. Age has also been identified as a factor.

If you are under 35 and have tried to conceive without success for a full year your doctor may diagnose you as infertile. Once infertility is diagnosed the next step is to identify what is preventing you from conceiving as lupus may not be the culprit.

Testing for women typically includes blood work for antiphospholipid syndrome, ultrasound, Hysterosalpingogram (HSG) and other specialized procedures depending on test results.

For men, testing typically includes semen analysis, blood work to check hormone levels, and ultrasound.