“Since each body is different, blood sugar needs to be closely monitored to make sure levels don’t get too high or too low.Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock
There was a time when women who had diabetes were strongly advised to avoid getting pregnant. Attempting to produce a biologically-related family was just too dangerous [source: Brucker]. Fortunately, diabetic women are no longer given that heartbreaking direction from caregivers. Diabetics can, and routinely do, get pregnant and give birth to healthy children. Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, however, can still be a major factor in fertility for men or women.
There are challenges diabetics face in getting a partner pregnant, becoming pregnant, maintaining a pregnancy and ensuring they give birth to a healthy, full-term baby. Diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2) can harm sperm [source: Paddock]. Type 2 diabetes can make it far more difficult to become pregnant. There’s an increased rate of miscarriage among diabetics in general, and women with Type 1 diabetes are somewhat more likely to have a baby with a birth defect or a child born prematurely [source: MyDr]. However, all of these challenges can largely be managed by being attentive to and responding to signals from the body.
In order to understand why diabetes affects reproduction, it helps to have a general understanding of the disease in both of its forms. A healthy human body digests food and — with the help of a hormone called insulin — transports a form of sugar known as glucose through the bloodstream to cells for energy. Diabetics have flaws in their metabolism.
A Type 1 diabetic’s body doesn’t make insulin. The body of a Type 2 diabetic either fails to create enough insulin, the person’s cells don’t react properly to the insulin or both malfunctions occur [source: Nordqvist].
Click ahead to learn the specifics of how Type 1 diabetes influences reproduction and how it can be managed.
- Type 1 Diabetes: High Glucose and Conception
- Type 2 Diabetes: Blood Sugar and Fertility
- PCOS and Type 2 Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes: High Glucose and Conception
You’ve undoubtedly heard a pregnant woman calling herself — or being called — hormonal. Hormones are essentially chemical signals. Different hormones tell parts of the body to take action of one sort of the other. Lots of hormones are at work in a pregnant woman. Insulin is a vital, life-sustaining hormone that every person has to have — especially a person wanting to reproduce life.
A Type 1 diabetic has to take insulin since the body is not producing it. This can be a delicate game. Since each body is different, blood sugar levels have to be closely monitored to make sure that blood sugar levels don’t get too high or too low. Diabetics seeking to get pregnant are encouraged to meet with their doctors and develop a plan. It may be necessary for them to check their blood sugar several times a day [source: Brucker].
The human body is essentially making an evaluation of whether it’s providing a sufficiently welcoming environment for fertilization and growth of life. The goal is to establish a stable physical environment that encourages pregnancy and allows the baby’s growth to proceed without complications. The body’s insulin needs may vary throughout a pregnancy, so proper monitoring is key [source: MyDr].
There are secondary conditions associated with Type 1 diabetes to be considered as well. A woman’s thyroid stimulating hormones can be negatively affected by diabetes. FSH, or follicle stimulating hormones, also have a tendency to be attacked in an autoimmune response by a diabetic’s body. A doctor will want to check those hormonal levels prior to conception [source: Alkon]. Diabetic men may want to consult with their doctors about potential problems that may arise, ranging from erectile dysfunction to damaged nerves that cause sperm to enter the bladder during ejaculation [source: source: Falcone].
Approximately 15 percent of all diabetics are of the Type 1 variety [source: Nordqvist]. Click ahead to learn about the other 85 percent who are Type 2 diabetics and have different considerations when it comes to their condition and fertility.
Compounding the Problem
Overweight or obese people are far more prone to developing insulin resistance. Losing the pounds can be difficult because insulin resistance is a cause of further weight gain [source: Nordqvist].
Type 2 Diabetes: Blood Sugar and Fertility
Perfect timing is required to become pregnant. That’s why, generally speaking, couples aren’t advised to consult an infertility specialist unless they’ve been trying to conceive for one year without success [source: My Infertility Guide]. It’s simply that tough to get the timing right. Unfortunately, Type 2 diabetes can complicate ovulation and make a woman’s menstrual cycles highly unpredictable. That makes it all the more difficult to become pregnant.
In most cases, Type 2 diabetes is caused by being overweight, obese and/or in poor physical shape for an extended period of time [source: Nordqvist]. The extra weight leads to insulin resistance. When one hormone is out of balance it can cause other hormones to become imbalanced, as well. Since insulin is a hormone, a domino effect can be triggered affecting testosterone, estrogen, progesterone and other hormone levels that are key components of reproduction. Such imbalances are associated with everything from erectile dysfunction to cysts on ovaries [source: Falcone].
Infertility specialists encourage their patients with Type 2 diabetes to focus their efforts on eating healthy, exercising, losing weight and closely monitoring blood sugar levels [source: Falcone]. Taking vitamin supplements is also encouraged. If those efforts alone don’t lead to a healthy pregnancy, then medications like metformin, clomiphene citrate and letrozole may be introduced to improve fertility.
It can be a challenge to make the lifestyle changes necessary to deal with Type 2 diabetes. The good news is that those efforts are, quite often, rewarded.
Click ahead to learn how Type 2 diabetes is related to polycystic ovarian syndrome.
PCOS and Type 2 Diabetes
PCOS stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition in which hormonal imbalances create multiple cysts on a woman’s ovaries, leading to unpredictable menstrual cycles and infertility. Research has shown a strong correlation between PCOS and Type 2 diabetes [source: Insulite Laboratories].
In addition to erratic menstrual cycles, PCOS can also cause women to miss their periods altogether, or produce immature eggs. Both PCOS and Type 2 diabetes are characterized by unhealthy levels of blood glucose and a resistance to insulin. A variety of medications can be prescribed to help lessen or reverse the effects of PCOS. Metformin is one of the most popular drugs. Metformin was prescribed for diabetes long before it was found to be successful in the treatment of polycystic ovarian syndrome [sources: Diabetes Forecast; NCCWC]. As with Type 2 diabetes, a healthy lifestyle can also go a long way toward reducing or eliminating PCOS [source: Insulite Laboratories]. The key is to bring blood sugar levels into a normal and stable range while combating insulin resistance.
In some instances, women who are neither unhealthy nor overweight develop Type 2 diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Hispanic and African-American women also have a greater likelihood of being diagnosed with PCOS [source: Insulite Laboratories].
Diabetes doesn’t preclude men and women from reproducing. It does, however, require professional guidance, meticulous maintenance of health, and monitoring of blood sugar and hormonal levels. With proper care and attention, the vast majority of diabetics can have healthy offspring.
A quarter of all cases of infertility are caused by a failure to ovulate. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is the leading cause of anovulation [source: Falcone].
Lots More Information
- Can acupuncture and hypnosis treat infertility?
- Does an irregular menstrual cycle make you less fertile?
- When are you most fertile?
- Can you test your fertility at home?
- When is it time to see a fertility specialist?
- Are there vitamins that can increase fertility?
- Alkon, Cheryl. "Balancing Pregnancy With Pre-existing Diabetes: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby." Demos Medical Publishing. April 1, 2010. (June 29, 2012)
- Brucker, Hilda J. "Diabetes and Fertility." Jan. 27, 2009. (June 29, 2012) http://www.conceiveonline.com/articles/diabetes-and-fertility?page=0,0
- Diabetic Care Services. "Common Diabetes Complications: Diabetes and Infertility." (July 2, 2012) http://www.diabeticcareservices.com/diabetes-education/diabetes-and-infertility
- Diabetes Forecast. "The Origins of Metformin." December 2010. (July 4, 2012) http://forecast.diabetes.org/magazine/origins-metformin
- Insulite Laboratories. "Type 2 Diabetes and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome." (July 4, 2012) http://diabetesmanagement.insulitelabs.com/index.php?q=type-2-diabetes-and-polycystic-ovarian-syndrome-pcos.php
- Labor of Love. "How long does it take for Metformin to work?" (July 4, 2012) http://www.thelaboroflove.com/articles/how-long-does-it-take-for-metformin-to-work
- My Dr.com. "Diabetes and Getting Pregnant." Sept. 30, 2009. (June 29, 2012) http://www.mydr.com.au/diabetes/diabetes-and-getting-pregnant
- My Infertility Guide. "Frequently Asked Questions." (July 4, 2012) http://www.myinfertilityguide.com/faq.htm
- National Collaborating Centre for Women’s and Children’s Health. "Fertility." February 2004 (July 4, 2012) http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/pdf/cg011fullguideline.pdf
- Nordqvist, Christian. "What is the difference between diabetes 1 and diabetes 2?" Medical News Today. May 15, 2009. (July 3, 2012) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/7504.php
- Paddock, Catharine. "Diabetes Linked to Male Infertility." May 3, 2007. (July 3, 2012) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/69779.php