Females who suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS) and who undertake assisted reproduction technology (ART) infertility treatment could be increasing the activity of their disease, a study in Argentina has indicated.
The research, which was published in the Child Neurology Society and American Neurological Association's journal Annals of Neurology, suggested that the regulation of immune responses can be altered through reproductive hormones in people who suffer from MS and other autoimmune disorders.
Many people use ART to become pregnant when infertility and MS coincide, Dr Jorge Correale of the Raul Carrea Institute for Neurological Research said.
"Given the role of some reproductive hormones in autoimmune diseases, those with MS receiving infertility treatments are at particular risk of exacerbating their disease," he added.
A 2006 World Health Organization report found that 2.5 million people suffer from MS worldwide, with the disease seen in women more often than in men.
Typically, females with MS do not suffer from diminished fertility except for those who receive treatments such as high doses of corticosteroids or cyclophosphamide.
International healthcare specialists examined radiological, critical and clinical data from 16 people with MS who underwent a total of 26 ART cycles, while a further 15 MS patients whose disease was in remission and 15 healthy people were used as control subjects.
They found that within the three months following ART treatment, 75 per cent of the MS patients being given infertility treatments experienced some degree of disease exacerbation, with 58 per cent reporting a relapse in the autoimmune disorder.
A total of 27 per cent of all exacerbations were said to be the result of a worsening of pre-existing ailments, while 73 per cent were new symptoms, the researchers added, suggesting that ARTs are linked with a seven-fold increase in the likelihood of MS being exacerbated ad a nine-fold increase in higher levels of disease activity after magnetic resonance imaging was undertaken.
"Neurologists should be aware of possible disease exacerbation so they may discuss the benefits and risks of ART with MS patients," Dr Correale concluded.