Many women who have lupus worry about how it may affect their ability to get pregnant and carry a baby to term. Though pregnancies with lupus are never easy, women with lupus can and do have healthy children. Thanks to early diagnosis, improved prognosis, and changes in attitude, pregnancies with lupus, which were once rare, are now quite common.
What is Lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease affecting one out of every 185 Americans. Ninety percent of those diagnosed with lupus are female, and diagnosis is most often made during childbearing years.
Lupus is a chronic disease that causes inflammation of various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood and kidneys. The immune system, which normally protects the body against viruses, bacteria and other foreign materials, instead turns on the body and produces antibodies that attack the person's own tissues and organs. Lupus can be present in a number of different ways and because of this, it can be hard to diagnose. However, common symptoms are joint and muscle pain, extreme fatigue, persistent low-grade fevers, "butterfly" rash across the bridge of the nose and cheeks, weight loss, hair loss, photosensitivity (sun or light sensitivity), pleurisy (pain in the chest on deep breathing), headaches, and mouth or nose ulcers. Lupus can be mild to life threatening, but most lupus patients can get their lupus under control through education, monitoring, and appropriate therapy.
No one knows what causes lupus, but researchers believe that it may be a combination of factors, including heredity, hormones, immune system dysfunction, infections, or environment.
Lupus and Fertility
Most lupus patients have normal fertility and can conceive a child within a year of trying to become pregnant. However, some of the drugs used to treat lupus (such as cyclophosphamide, brand name Cytoxan) can reduce fertility. High doses of prednisone can stop menstrual periods, but you can still get pregnant when taking the drug.
Lupus and Pregnancy
Lupus may flare during pregnancy, but often times many lupus patients do not have any more trouble with pregnancies than the average woman. In fact, sometimes changes that happen during pregnancy may look like a lupus flare up, but they are actually just a healthy pregnancy symptom and unrelated to lupus. Because of this, lupus flares may be more difficult to detect during pregnancy because of their similarity with pregnancy discomforts. Treatment of flares in lupus during pregnancy is determined by both the mother's and baby's health. There is no need to treat a pregnant woman with lupus to prevent a flare. Instead, flares are dealt with if and when they occur.