Fetuses exposed to rheumatoid arthritis in utero often have a higher chance of developing certain chronic conditions.
Moms with rheumatoid arthritis may not be able to protect their children from developing certain chronic conditions.
A recent study published in Arthritis Care and Research found that the offspring of mothers who had rheumatoid arthritis (RA) while pregnant were at considerably higher risk for developing chronic diseases themselves compared to children born to mothers without RA.
For the research, 15 kinds of diseases were selected for comparison. The offspring who were exposed to maternal RA in utero had higher rates of disease in five of these categories.
The most notable risks were for childhood or adolescent diagnoses of RA, epilepsy, and thyroid diseases. Anxiety and chronic lung diseases such as asthma also were seen at higher rates in children who were exposed to RA in utero.
What the study revealed
This study looked at a registry of all Danish children who were born between 1989 and 2013. Of these children, 2,106 were exposed to their mother’s RA while in utero. There were 1.3 million children whose mothers didn’t have RA while pregnant.
Medication use and socioeconomic information weren’t included in the researchers’ analysis.
And while the association between maternal RA and chronic disease seemed strongly evident, the biological implications were unclear and weren’t able to be deduced through the data obtained in the study.
Researchers were unable to determine to what extent genetics and environment played in the development of chronic disease in these children.
The leading disease associated with maternal RA was, in fact, RA. Children exposed to RA in utero had a twofold increased risk of developing RA themselves, often in childhood or adolescence.
RA isn’t considered to be a hereditary condition, but the cause is unknown. The study suggests there may actually be a genetic component.
Children exposed to RA while in the womb may be more likely to receive a diagnosis of epilepsy during childhood or adolescence as well. They have a 61 percent greater chance of developing epilepsy when compared to those who weren’t exposed to RA.
Based on this data, it would appear that rheumatologists, pediatricians, and parents should be aware of the long-term risk of either of these conditions, a thyroid problem, or other chronic health issues if their child is born to a mother who has RA.
One expert says the information is important, but more research needs to be done to come up with ways to help mothers in this situation.
“The study’s confirmation of the association between children exposed to RA in utero and the development of chronic health conditions creates important challenges for physicians involved with women with RA planning to have a family, in that while these associations appear real, there is little useful information that can help with family planning, other than recognizing the risk,” Dr. Charles Weaver, executive director of CancerConnect and the RAConnection, told Healthline.