You should know several things about rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy if you suffer from the condition and hope to become pregnant. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that most commonly affects women. It typically causes joint inflammation and pain in the hands and feet. Most medications for rheumatoid arthritis should not be taken during pregnancy. Another thing to know is that rheumatoid arthritis may cause complications and difficulty in delivering the baby.
If you plan on having a baby, it is important to discuss rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy with your doctor first. He or she may need to adjust your medication, especially if you are taking either methotrexate and leflunomide, anti-rheumatoid drugs that work against the progression of the disease. Both drugs can lead to birth defects if taken while a couple is trying to conceive. Birth defects can occur if either parent takes the medication during conception. Depending on the type of medication you are on, you may need to plan years in advance of becoming pregnant, as it takes a while for the medications to fully leave your body. For instance, leflunomide can cause birth defects up to two years after you stop taking it.
It is important to know what treatments are safe for rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy. You may do well taking certain corticosteroids while pregnant or a different type of anti-rheumatoid drug, such as sulfasalazine. Another way to reduce risk to the fetus is to stop taking medication entirely while trying to become pregnant and during the course of your pregnancy. Many women with rheumatoid arthritis experience fewer or no symptoms during pregnancy. Unfortunately for some women, their condition may become worse if they go off medication while pregnant.
While most women are able to bear a child without complications, rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy do present certain risks to the fetus. Babies born to women with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to have a low birth weight. Rheumatoid arthritis may increase a woman's chance of delivering too soon or make her more likely to need a cesarean section during delivery.
About 3 percent of women with rheumatoid arthritis may develop preeclampisa during pregnancy, compared to 1 percent of all women without rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms of preeclampsia include high blood pressure and protein in urine. It typically occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy and can be very dangerous to the mother and baby, especially if it occurs early on. Complications from preeclampsia can include seizures in the mother, lack of oxygen and blood flow to the fetus, and placental abruption, when the placenta detaches from the uterine wall.