Reproductive health can be a concern for patients with rheumatic diseases, and practitioners in both rheumatology and obstetrics/gynecology often work closely together. The 2020 ACR Guideline for the Management of Reproductive Health in Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases, new clinical recommendations developed by an ACR-convened group for pregnant women, post-menopausal women, lactating women, and women and men trying to conceive or delay conception, was published online in Arthritis & Rheumatology and Arthritis Care & Research Feb. 24.1
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The evidence-based guideline includes contraceptive recommendations and suggestions for rheumatologists co-managing patients with obstetrician-gynecologists (OB/GYNs) and other specialists.
The guideline’s literature review team accepted 319 out of 11,760 published manuscripts for systematic review, said Eliza Chakravarty, MD, MS, associate member, Arthritis and Clinical Immunology Research Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, Oklahoma City. Other fields have many well-structured, randomized, controlled trials, but “we wound up working with relatively lower-quality evidence based on the available studies,” she said. Thus, most of the recommendations are conditional, not strong.
The Voting Panel included rheumatologists, OB/GYNs, reproductive medicine specialists and patients. The panel required 70% agreement to reach consensus on whether to include or discard recommendations. The guideline also includes good practice statements, which are clinical suggestions, such as counseling rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease (RMD) patients on the use of potentially teratogenic medications.
Principal investigator Lisa R. Sammaritano, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and associate attending physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, reviewed the final recommendations, the result of a three-year effort with input from medical professionals and patients. Patients on the panel had a consistent message, she said: “My rheumatologist knows me much better than my gynecologist.” Even if you are pressed for time, “patients really do want to talk to their rheumatologists about these topics,” she said.
Condoms and the estrogen-progestin combination pill have lower efficacy in preventing pregnancy, so the guideline suggests the more effective long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) methods, such as intrauterine devices or implants, when possible.2
Good practice statements on contraception: Discuss contraception and pregnancy plans at an initial or early office visit or when initiating treatment with potentially teratogenic medications, and counsel patients on contraceptive methods based on efficacy, safety and personal values.
- Encourage the use of effective LARC for all patients;
- Avoid estrogen in antiphospholipid antibody (aPL) positive patients or those with active systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), using an intra-uterine device or the less-effective progestin-only pill in these patients;
- Avoid depot medroxyprogesterone acetate injections in patients at high risk for osteoporosis; and
- Encourage all patients to use over-the-counter morning-after emergency contraception, if desired.
Fertility/Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)
Fertility is becoming more of a concern for patients, because women may delay pregnancy until their disease is inactive, said Dr. Sammaritano. “As a result, they may end up needing fertility therapy. Oocyte or embryo cryopreservation is now standard care, rather than experimental, and if you haven’t yet had patients ask you about this, I guarantee that you will.”