5 Facts About Cystic Fibrosis and Reproduction

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by Patricia Silva PhD |

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5 Facts About Cystic Fibrosis and Reproduction

1. Most Female CF Patients Have No Problems Conceiving


According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, cystic fibrosis (CF) affects the reproductive system, but most women have no difficulties in getting pregnant. Female CF patients have a thicker cervical mucus caused by the defective functioning of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) function. The thicker mucus can make it more difficult for the sperm to penetrate the cervix, increasing the amount of time needed for a woman to get pregnant. But in some cases the difficulties are related to other problems, not CF.

According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF), most CF female patients don’t have problems getting pregnant and have healthy pregnancies, with 85 percent of couples reporting they were able to conceive within the first 12 months after stopping contraception.

2. CF Treatment Can Cause Women to Experience Problems


While the disease does not cause infertility in women, treatments for the disease can cause problems for some women. “Certain antibiotics and corticosteroids (prednisone), which most women with cystic fibrosis take on a daily basis, have been known to change the normal levels of acidity and bacteria in the vagina. For this reason, women with CF are especially prone to getting fungal vaginitis (also known as thrush or a vaginal yeast infection) caused by a microorganism called Candida albicans,” according to the foundation. In addition, women with CF are also more likely to suffer stress incontinence, and have irregular menstruation related to poor nutrition.

3. Male CF Patients Are Usually Infertile


Between 97 and 98 percent of all male CF patients are infertile due to a blockage or total absence of the sperm canal. This defect is called congenital bilateral absence of the vas deferens (CBAVD). The vas deferens acts is a long tube that acts as a sperm canal where sperm is ejaculated into semen during ejaculation. The absence of sperm in the semen makes its impossible to reach and fertilize an egg, and this absence may make the semen thinner.

But there is a difference between being infertile and sterile. Even though the vas deferens is blocked or nonexistent, the sperm is there, and 90 percent of CF patients produce sperm normally. This means that male CF patients can still have biological children through assisted reproductive technology (ART).

4. Possibilities for Fathering a Child Change After Transplant


It may not be the most important point to consider before a life-saving transplant, but it is certainly important. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation says: “Although biological fatherhood after a lung transplant is certainly possible, many commonly prescribed anti-rejection medications have been known to cause birth defects. For this reason, some reproductive specialists may reject post-transplant sperm for use in in vitro fertilization (IVF), intrauterine insemination (IUI), and other assisted reproductive technology (ART) techniques.” Therefore, CF men who want a family in the future are advised to discuss this with their physicians.

5. CF Does Not Define a Patient’s Sex Life


Cystic fibrosis affects the all body and life of a patient, and that includes reproduction and sexuality. However, there is no reason for patients to let their sex lives be affected by the disease. CF patients may be concerned that sexual activity may exacerbate their symptoms and cause shortness of breath, coughing, or hemoptysis, but it should not prevent them from having a fulfilling sex life, and the disease itself does not diminish sexual performance or the desire for intimacy.

“Unsurprisingly, the ups and downs of having a chronic illness can affect your sex drive, and you may find that your desire to have sex decreases during times when you feel especially ill,” according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “When your health declines, maintaining intimacy with your partner, spouse, or significant other without being sexually active can be challenging. During these times, it is important to remember that there is a distinction between sex and intimacy.”

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