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Abstract

Objective

Women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have fewer children on average than other women. We sought to determine the roles of infertility, pregnancy loss, and personal choice on family size in women with these diseases.

Methods

A reproductive history questionnaire was completed by women with RA and SLE participating in a longitudinal observational study. Within each disease cohort, participants were divided into 3 groups: those interested in having children at symptom onset who had either fewer children than planned (group A) or the same number as planned (group B), and those no longer interested in having children at diagnosis (group C).

Results

Of the 578 RA and 114 SLE women surveyed, >60% were in group C. Of those interested in having children, 55% with RA and 64% with SLE had fewer children than originally planned. Among women with RA, group A had 1 less pregnancy, 1 less live birth, and an infertility rate 1.5 times higher than group B; the miscarriage rate was similar in both groups. Compared to SLE group B, SLE group A had a similar number of pregnancies, but a 3-fold higher rate of miscarriage and 1 less live birth. Concerns about child health and personal welfare were associated with a lower pregnancy rate.

Conclusion

In this population, more than one-half of young women with RA or SLE had fewer biologic children than desired. While patient choice plays a role, infertility in RA patients and miscarriage in SLE patients are also important.