Women With Rheumatoid Arthritis May Have Premature Babies

Mothers with rheumatoid arthritis were more likely to give birth early and have underweight babies

(RxWiki News) Many factors, like high blood pressure, infections, stress and smoking, may raise the risk of premature birth in pregnant women. And new research suggests that rheumatoid arthritis may also raise that risk.

A new study from Denmark found that pregnant women with rheumatoid arthritis were more likely to give birth prematurely. Their babies were also likely to weigh slightly less than babies of mothers who did not have rheumatoid arthritis.

The researchers said doctors should be aware of the increased risk to children of mothers with rheumatoid arthritis. They called for further research on possible long-term health effects for these children.

A research team, led by Ane L. Rom, MPH, from Copenhagen University Hospital, conducted this nationwide study in Denmark. They studied all Danish children born between 1977 and 2008. The final study group included 1,917,723 children.

Of children in the final study group, 13,566 were born to mothers who had active or preclinical rheumatoid arthritis. Preclinical refers to the period before a patient shows symptoms of a disease. Mothers with active arthritis delivered 2,101 babies during the study. The remaining 11,465 children were born to mothers with preclinical rheumatoid arthritis.

The study authors found that babies born to mothers with rheumatoid arthritis had similar measurements — such as body length and head and abdominal circumference — when compared to babies born to mothers without the condition. Babies of mothers with rheumatoid arthritis, however, weighed about 3 ounces less on average.

Babies whose mothers had preclinical arthritis were also more likely to weigh less than babies of mothers without the condition.

The researchers found that children whose mothers had rheumatoid arthritis were about 48 percent more likely to be born prematurely. Children whose mothers had preclinical arthritis were about 32 percent more likely to be born prematurely.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation and pain in the joints. Women are three times more likely to have it than men. Around 1.5 million people in the US have the condition, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Babies born too early often have health problems, such as trouble breathing, a compromised immune system and low blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Obstetricians should be aware of the increased risk of preterm birth in women with [rheumatoid arthritis] and among those with preclinical signs of the disease,” Rom said in a press release. “For women with [rheumatoid arthritis], we found only a small reduction in fetal growth in their babies, which has little impact on the children immediately following birth. The long term health effects for children born to mothers with [arthritis] need further investigation.”

The study was published online Nov. 13 in Arthritis & Rheumatology.

Grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Danish Council for Independent Research and the Augustinus Foundation funded the study. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 12, 2014