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Pregnancy and the Risk of Autoimmune Disease
Published: Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Author: Ali S. Khashan et al.

by Ali S. Khashan, Louise C. Kenny, Thomas M. Laursen, Uzma Mahmood, Preben B. Mortensen, Tine B. Henriksen, Keelin O'Donoghue

Autoimmune diseases (AID) predominantly affect women of reproductive age. While basic molecular studies have implicated persisting fetal cells in the mother in some AID, supportive epidemiological evidence is limited. We investigated the effect of vaginal delivery, caesarean section (CS) and induced abortion on the risk of subsequent maternal AID. Using the Danish Civil Registration System (CRS) we identified women who were born between 1960 and1992. We performed data linkage between the CRS other Danish national registers to identify women who had a pregnancy and those who developed AID. Women were categorised into 4 groups; nulligravida (control group), women who had 1st child by vaginal delivery, whose 1st delivery was by CS and who had abortions. Log-linear Poisson regression with person-years was used for data analysis adjusting for several potential confounders. There were 1,035,639 women aged >14 years and 25,570 developed AID: 43.4% nulligravida, 44.3% had their first pregnancy delivered vaginally, 7.6% CS and 4.1% abortions. The risk of AID was significantly higher in the 1st year after vaginal delivery (RR?=?1.1[1.0, 1.2]) and CS (RR?=?1.3[1.1, 1.5]) but significantly lower in the 1st year following abortion (RR?=?0.7[0.6, 0.9]). These results suggest an association between pregnancy and the risk of subsequent maternal AID. Increased risks of AID after CS may be explained by amplified fetal cell traffic at delivery, while decreased risks after abortion may be due to the transfer of more primitive fetal stem cells. The increased risk of AID in the first year after delivery may also be related to greater testing during pregnancy.