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Does HIV Cause Miscarriage?

Updated on January 24, 2017
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy has written about health and wellness for more than five years. She is the former manager of two large clinics in Austin, Texas.

Pregnancy and HIV—can it work?

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Is there a risk of miscarriage with HIV?

Although women with HIV can indeed have a successful pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby who is not infected with HIV, research does show an increased risk of late-term loss of the fetus.

However, the overall health and circumstances of the mother and other factors should be considered when weighing this information. The circumstances of some women may not resemble those of women in the research studies.

Many of the women who miscarried also had other factors in their lives, such as poverty, migration away from their native country and instances of partner abuse or domestic violence.

For the past decade or so, advances in antiretroviral treatments (the 'cocktail' therapy) have greatly improved the chance of an HIV-positive woman giving birth to a healthy baby.

This means that even if a woman is infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), she can have a baby who is free of that virus. Certainly, though, having HIV should be taken seriously when contemplating pregnancy; it is a manageable condition, but one requiring changes in lifestyle and regular monitoring.

If you have HIV, or if you're dating or married to a person with HIV, this article offers information about the risks of miscarriage with HIV-infected women compared to women who do not have HIV.

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Research on Miscarriage and HIV

At least two research studies have shown an increase in miscarriage among HIV-positive women.

A study done in Uganda (in 2004) showed a dramatic increased risk of HIV-positive women suffering miscarriage in the late pregnancy. The contrast (five times higher than miscarriage instances in non-HIV mothers) created an interest in doing similar research in England.

In 2007, a London hospital reviewed several years of pregnancy data of 242 pregnant women, which showed an overall pregnancy loss rate of eight percent among those studied, compared to two percent in the general (non-HIV) population, and four percent in the economic-depressed area in which the research was done. This would suggest a fourfold increase in the risk of miscarriage for women with HIV.

Only four of the women studied were born outside of sub-Saharan Africa, and none had a recorded history of injecting drugs or alcohol abuse.

However, there were higher instances of other problems, such as household/partner violence and emotional distresses, and some had an earlier history of miscarriage. These factors cannot be set aside in determining the overall risk of miscarriage for women with HIV compared to non-HIV infected women.

Possible Causes of Miscarriage in HIV-Infected Women

The pregnancy losses observed in the London study occurred after 14 weeks, and as far into the pregnancies as 39 weeks (a normal pregnancy term is 40 weeks).

In about 70 percent of the pregnancy losses (10 of 14 assessed), records showed an inflammation of the membrane covering the fetus. This type of inflammation generally stems from a bacterial infection in the region of the cervical or vaginal area that migrates to the uterus and then affects the fetus.

Researchers in this study determined the cause of miscarriage to remain unclear, but the above information is helpful for future research. Earlier studies showed an increase of similar membrane inflammation, but in those instances, the infection was felt to be transmitted inutero (rather than from an external site, such as the vaginal area).

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HIV-Positive Women and Women With AIDS Can Deliver Healthy Babies

As mentioned above, the 'normal' rate of miscarriage, for women who do not have HIV and who are not experiencing other socioeconomic issues, is two percent. Even a four-fold increase (such as that shown in the London study) reflects less than a 10 percent chance of miscarriage for women who have HIV.

Women with HIV do get pregnant, and through good care during gestation, they can deliver healthy babies. Women who do not have HIV should always explore whether a potential partner is at risk of being infected, and use appropriate protection to avoid transmitting the virus if they are dating someone with HIV.

Loss of a pregnancy is heartbreaking. As many women know, the minute you know you are pregnant, the baby is very real to you and is already your child. Although the overall risk may seem low (less than 10 percent), these risks should not be taken lightly.

The recent advances in the treatment of HIV and the individual circumstances of each woman should be considered when attempting to get pregnant. One way to safeguard your partner (since HIV can be transmitted from women to men) is to use artificial insemination to conceive.

If you are already pregnant, you should find a good physician, preferably one experienced in following pregnancies with women who have HIV. Follow his or her directions, get plenty of rest and eat well, and follow good hygiene practices to help avoid health problems during your pregnancy.

This article is presented for informational purposes and is not designed to give medical advice. Marcy Goodfleisch has a Master of Arts degree and is the former clinic administrator of the David Powell HIV Clinic in Austin, Texas.

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  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi,Sweetie1 - yes, it is true that HIV can be transmitted to the baby, but there are ways to greatly reduce the risks of that. The hub on dating someone with HIV discusses this in more detail. There are even ways to safely use the sperm from a male who is infected with HIV in order to allow a couple to have a baby.

    The advances in HIV in recent years are huge, and if it is properly treated, people can live normal lives. Prevention is still important, but those who are infected will find there are ways to manage the condition.

  • sweetie1 profile image

    sweetie1 4 years ago from India

    Very informative hub. Though i was under impression that children can inherit HiV from the infected mother but obviously I was wrong.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Avionnovice - the statistics are actually very good for having a healthy child, and as mentioned here, the percentage of miscarriages is not huge, but it's still higher than among women who are not infected. Thanks for reading and for commenting!

  • aviannovice profile image

    Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

    Well done. I always wondered what the stats were for infected patients and their children.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Many thanks, Margie - this is a tender subject for thousands of women across the world.

  • Mmargie1966 profile image

    Mmargie1966 5 years ago from Gainesville, GA

    This hub sure was interesting. It was very informative, and a bit moving as well. Great Job, Marcy!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Homesteadbound - yes, it's amazing to see the advances that have been made. The transmission rate between mothers and their unborn babies is now much lower than it was years ago. The key is for the mother to have care during her pregnancy, as well as addressing other factors than can affect the health of both of them.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • homesteadbound profile image

    Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

    Wow! I would have thought that a mother with HIV could not help but deliver a child with HIV considering the exchange of blood between fetus and mother. This is great news for someone wanting to have a child.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Many thanks, Nettlemere - as the hub mentions, the populations in the two studies has specific demographics. Every patient is different, and women with HIV can indeed have children without passing along the virus.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Allie - thanks so much for reading and voting. I learned while working with HIV patients that many people do not know some of the health issues or their options.

  • Nettlemere profile image

    Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

    Thanks for the useful evaluation of the two studies into the effect of HIV on miscarriage. An interesting and thought provoking article.

  • alliemacb profile image

    alliemacb 5 years ago from Scotland

    Interesting article which should prove useful to anyone with HIV who is considering having a baby. Voted up.