THURSDAY, Feb. 16, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Women with rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus often have fewer children than they'd hoped for, according to a new study.
These autoimmune diseases, which typically develop during women's reproductive years, cause fertility problems and miscarriage, researchers said.
Lupus causes the body's immune system to attack healthy tissues and organs. Rheumatoid arthritis leads to painful joint inflammation.
For the study, researchers asked 578 women with rheumatoid arthritis and 114 women with lupus about their reproductive health, and divided them into three groups according to how their condition affected their desire and ability to have children.
Group A included women who had fewer children than planned. Group B was comprised of women who had number of children they had planned for, and women in Group C were no longer interested in having children due to their concerns about how their illness would affect their children.
More than 60 percent of the women surveyed fell into Group C and no longer wanted to have children, according to the study appearing Feb. 16 in Arthritis Care & Research.
"Our study highlights important reproductive health concerns for women with [rheumatoid arthritis and lupus]," study author Dr. Megan Clowse said in a journal news release.
Of the remaining women, 55 percent with rheumatoid arthritis and 64 percent of those of those with lupus had fewer children than originally planned.
Among these women, those with rheumatoid arthritis had an infertility rate of 42 percent, or 1.5 times higher than those in group B. Both groups had similar rates of miscarriage.
Women with lupus who had fewer children than planned had the same number of pregnancies as those in Group B, but their miscarriage rate was three times higher.
The authors concluded that informing women with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis about their medical options during pregnancy and how to control their disease will help them achieve their family planning goals.
"Further study of the underlying causes of infertility and pregnancy loss in women with [rheumatoid arthritis and lupus] is needed to help fulfill their desire for children," Clowse said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides more information on women and autoimmune diseases.