Infertility can affect all individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF). While some people with CF have difficulty conceiving naturally, fertility treatments and assistive reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), can help.

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Males with CF can have anatomic changes relating to the condition in the reproductive tract. As a result, fertility issues are relatively common, even if a person has typical sexual function.

Females with CF can often conceive naturally, but it can take longer to become pregnant.

This article explores infertility in CF and fertility treatment options that can help people with this genetic disease.

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Yes, CF can affect fertility and many other aspects of health.

Primarily, the condition affects the mucus-producing cells of the lungs and digestive system. It causes mucus to become thick and sticky, plugging ducts and passageways and preventing tissues from functioning typically. As a result, people with CF are prone to developing infections, inflammation, and nutrient absorption issues.

The altered mucus production can also affect reproductive health. It can affect the typical transit of sperm through the vagina and cervix and may also have links to anatomic issues characterizing CF in the male reproductive system.

In CF, male fertility issues may involve problems with sperm transportation or production. Over 98% of men with CF have fertility issues due to an issue with sperm transportation.

Although a person with CF may produce sperm, an issue with or absence of the vas deferens — the tube that transports sperm to the urethra — may mean that the person’s semen will not contain sperm. This can affect their ability to impregnate a partner through intercourse.

Furthermore, males with CF may have hormonal issues that affect reproduction. For example, some with CF have low testosterone, which affects sperm production.

Many females with CF can become pregnant and give birth without fertility treatments, as the condition does not affect healthy egg production. However, they are more likely to experience fertility challenges than those without CF.

There are two reasons for this: irregular menstrual cycles and cervical mucus.

Females with CF have a higher risk of experiencing irregular or infrequent menstrual cycles. This is usually due to chronic stress or low body weight. CF can also cause thicker cervical mucus, which can make it harder for sperm to reach the egg.

Males with CF can often produce enough sperm. Therefore, doctors can perform a procedure to extract sperm directly from the testicles. Doctors can use it in fertility treatments such as IVF.

However, relatively few males with CF seek infertility treatment. This may be because they are uninformed about their fertility status and treatment options.

Furthermore, they may have concerns about the negative effects of CF on their parenthood and vice versa. They may also worry about the possibility of passing on their CF genes to their children.

It is important for people with CF to know that through IVF with preimplantation genetic testing, they can undergo embryo testing and select ones without CF. This will significantly decrease the risk of their children also having CF.

In females with CF, doctors may use the same fertility treatments as those without CF. They may include:

  • Medications: These stimulate egg production and the release of multiple eggs.
  • Intrauterine insemination (IUI): This is a procedure that introduces sperm directly into the uterus.
  • IVF: This involves joining the egg and sperm outside the body and inserting the embryo into the uterus.

In some cases, doctors may not recommend fertility treatment depending on a person’s health. For example, if they have lung function issues or heart disease, becoming pregnant could pose significant health risks.

However, with proper management and careful monitoring, many people with CF can carry a fetus without significantly affecting their long-term health.

If carrying a pregnancy is not possible or recommended, a person could consider using a gestational carrier or surrogate to carry the pregnancy for them.

Individuals with CF can consult a doctor if they are considering starting a family or experiencing fertility concerns. Their healthcare team can provide guidance, assess potential risks, and recommend any necessary measures before partners attempt pregnancy.

Likewise, if they have been trying to conceive without success, they can contact a doctor to discuss possible fertility treatment options.

People with CF with irregular or absent periods can also speak with their healthcare team. They may have underlying fertility conditions that may require attention and appropriate intervention.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) can significantly affect fertility in all individuals. Males with CF may have healthy sperm but cannot reach the semen. Likewise, females may have healthy eggs, but thickened mucus in the reproductive system may prevent sperm from fertilizing the egg.

Depending on the individual’s specific situation, doctors may recommend fertility treatments, such as medications, IUI, or IVF, to increase the likelihood of becoming pregnant.

Infertility in cystic fibrosis presents unique challenges that require close collaboration with healthcare professionals.

By engaging in open communication, individuals with CF can receive guidance, risk assessment, and necessary health optimizations before attempting conception.