Fertility and cystic fibrosis
Both men and women with cystic fibrosis (CF) may have problems conceiving a child ‘naturally’ for various reasons. Find out more about how CF affects the reproductive system and fertility of men and women, and the different fertility treatments available.
Fertility in women with cystic fibrosis
Many women with CF have babies without undergoing any fertility treatment, and women with CF do produce healthy, fertile eggs, so effective contraception is necessary if they are trying to avoid pregnancy. However, it is thought that women with CF are more likely to experience fertility problems than women who don’t have CF, due to:
- being more likely to experience irregular or absent periods if they are ill or very underweight, and
- having thicker vaginal mucus, which can make it harder for sperm to reach the egg.
Fertility issues in women with CF are treated in the same way as they are for women without the condition. There are various treatments available, including medications to boost egg production, intrauterine insemination (IUI) – a procedure that introduces sperm directly to the womb – or full in vitro fertilisation (IVF) techniques.
Scroll down to find out more about fertility treatments for cystic fibrosis. There are some circumstances where a CF team may feel that a woman is too poorly to safely become pregnant. This may be the case if she has:
- poor lung function
- respiratory failure
- pulmonary hypertension
- heart disease
- severe liver disease
- Burkholderia cenocepacia infection
Care during pregnancy
During pregnancy, your metabolism increases and the heart and lungs work differently to accommodate the changes to your body. For some women with CF, particularly those with a low or unstable lung function, poor nutrition or low body weight, these changes can cause significant and irreversible health complications. For this reason, pregnant women with CF are monitored much more regularly than women without cystic fibrosis.
For more information on women with cystic fibrosis and fertility, download our starting a family booklet.
Fertility in men with cystic fibrosis
Most men with cystic fibrosis (around 98%) will suffer from infertility and, as a result, will not be able to father a child biologically without assistance from fertility specialists. This is because the tube that carries sperm from the testicles to the penis (called the vas deferens) is either missing or blocked. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with the sperm, it just can’t get into the semen.
However, it is possible for men with this CF-related problem to father biological children through fertility treatment. The lack of the vas deferens does not cause erectile dysfunction (impotence). For more information on men with CF and fertility, download our starting a family booklet.
In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is the attempt to fertilise an egg with sperm outside the human body, ‘in glass’ (in vitro).
During IVF, an egg is removed from the woman's ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilised egg, called an embryo, is then returned to the woman's womb to grow and develop.
The procedure can take place using a woman’s own eggs and her partner’s sperm, or eggs and/or sperm from donors.
Adoption and surrogacy
For some people, adoption is their first preference for creating a family, while others turn to adoption having not been able to conceive their own child.
The adoption process requires a series of suitability checks, including a health assessment. This assessment will be organised by the adoption agency, which is either part of the local authority or a voluntary organisation.
Surrogacy is another option. This involves another woman carrying and giving birth to a baby for a couple.
If you or your partner has cystic fibrosis and you’re thinking of having children, take a look at our starting a family booklet. It contains lots of case studies and expert information to help support you in making the right decision for your health and your family.
Family planning resources
This guide provides information for adults with cystic fibrosis and their partners who are thinking about having children.
Research we fund
We fund research to tackle some of the most pressing issues in CF today. Find out how your donations are making a difference.
What is CF?
Cystic fibrosis, or CF, affects the lungs, digestive system and other organs. There are over 10,800 people living with it in the UK.
Get in touch with us to speak to someone on our Helpline, find out about an event or speak to our Press Team.