Common Reproductive Issues in Women With CF

Most women with CF have normal hormonal function, reproductive tracts and sexual development. Despite this, the majority of women experience common reproductive health issues associated with CF.

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Fungal Vaginitis

Certain antibiotics and corticosteroids (prednisone), which most women with cystic fibrosis take on a daily basis, have been known to change the normal levels of acidity and bacteria in the vagina. For this reason, women with CF are especially prone to getting fungal vaginitis (also known as thrush or a vaginal yeast infection) caused by a microorganism called Candida albicans.

Symptoms of fungal vaginitis include itching, irritation, discomfort and pain during sex or urination. Men with CF can also experience this type of infection (known as male candidiasis), although this is far less common. They may display symptoms such as sores on the penis, irritation and itching.

Fungal vaginitis can often be treated easily with antifungal creams or, in more severe cases, oral medications. Natural remedies, such as eating yogurt that contains live bacterial cultures, have been thought to potentially help the body re-establish its population of beneficial bacteria. Not all of these remedies have been scientifically proven.

Because fungal vaginitis is so common among women with CF, it is important to schedule annual examinations with your doctor or gynecologist. Getting regularly checked and treated for fungal vaginitis and other infections is critical to your sexual and reproductive health, and can help improve your everyday comfort significantly.

Stress Incontinence

Stress incontinence, or the unexpected release of small amounts of urine during activities like sneezing or coughing, is another primary reproductive health issue experienced by women with CF. One in four women with CF experience it on a regular basis. Frequent coughing -- especially for young women with CF -- can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, as can physical stresses such as childbirth. Clearing your lungs of mucus is an important form of CF treatment, so making sure that your stress incontinence does not go untreated and prevent you from coughing fully is important to your larger CF care.

Kegel exercises can significantly help women with CF firm up the group of muscles that support the bladder. These exercises entail regularly contracting and then relaxing your pelvic floor muscles for up to three seconds. They are recommended to be done in sets of 10 at least three times a day. By working the correct pelvic muscle group, women with CF can help prevent and control stress incontinence while simultaneously increasing their sexual pleasure. Kegel exercises not only provide you with a more long-term solution than panty liners or sanitary napkins for handling stress incontinence, but they can also be a great way to promote your sexual health overall.

Absent or Irregular Periods

Poor nutrition, low body weight and compromised lung function all affect the body's ability to ovulate and menstruate regularly. For this reason, some women with CF may have absent or irregular periods associated with being underweight or malnourished. Young women with CF may also experience delayed puberty or get their first period after many of their friends and peers.

If you are missing periods or ovulating less frequently, it is important for you to talk to your CF care team or dietitian. Together, you can work on addressing any lung or nutrition problems, improving your general health and finding ways to put on weight.

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Fertility and Reproductive Health
Sexuality, Fertility and Cystic Fibrosis: Information for Adults Download PDF
A Young Person’s Guide to Sexual and Reproductive Health Issues in Cystic Fibrosis Download PDF
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