Today, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) published the 2020 Guideline for the Management of Reproductive Health in Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases. This is the first, evidence-based, clinical practice guideline related to the management of reproductive health issues for all patients with rheumatic diseases. With 131 recommendations, the guideline offers general precepts that provide a foundation for its recommendations and good practice statements.
“This guideline is paramount because it is the first official guidance addressing the intersection of rheumatology and obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN),” said Lisa Sammaritano, MD, lead author of the guideline. “Rheumatic diseases affect many younger individuals; however, little education has been provided to rheumatology professionals on current OB-GYN practices. The guideline [and more detailed online appendices] presents vital background knowledge and recommendations for addressing reproductive health issues in the full spectrum of rheumatology patients, with additional focus on specific diagnoses that require more detailed recommendations such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and antiphospholipid syndrome (APS).
The guideline provides 12 ungraded good practice statements and 131 graded recommendations that are intended to guide care for rheumatology patients except where indicated as being for patients with specific conditions or antibodies present. Good practice statements are those in which indirect evidence is compelling enough that a formal vote was considered unnecessary; these are ungraded and are presented as suggestions rather than formal recommendations. The recommendations were separated into six categories: contraception, assisted reproductive technology (fertility therapies), fertility preservation with gonadotoxic therapy, menopausal hormone replacement therapy, pregnancy assessment and management, and medication use.
While some of the recommendations are strong, many of the recommendations presented are conditional due to a lack of data. Pregnant women are not generally enrolled in clinical studies, and few maternal health studies focus on rheumatology patients. A few notable recommendations from each category include:
Conditional recommendation against testosterone co-therapy in men with rheumatic disease receiving cyclophosphamide (CYC) and a good practice suggestion to cryopreserve sperm before CYC treatment in men who desire it.
Conditional recommendation for monthly gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist co-therapy for premenopausal women with rheumatic disease who are receiving monthly CYC injections/infusions to prevent premature ovarian insufficiency.
Strongly recommend against use of CYC and thalidomide in men prior to attempting conception.
Strong recommendation against the use of NSAIDs in the third trimester.
Individuals involved in the development of the new guideline included rheumatologists, obstetrician/gynecologists, reproductive medicine specialists, epidemiologists, and patients with rheumatic diseases. ACR guidelines are currently developed using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) methodology, which creates rigorous standards for judging the quality of the literature available and assigns strengths to the recommendations that are largely based on the quality of the available evidence.
“This guideline should open avenues of communication between the rheumatologist and the patient, as well as between the rheumatologist and the OB-GYN,” said Dr. Sammaritano. “A better understanding of the risks and benefits of reproductive health options will enhance patient care by providing safe and effective contraception, improving pregnancy outcomes by conceiving during inactive disease periods, and allowing for continued control of rheumatic diseases during and after pregnancy with the use of well-suited medications.”
A draft of the guideline was presented during the 2018 ACR/ARHP Annual Meeting in Chicago. Since that time, the guideline team has condensed the original three-part draft into a single, concise manuscript, with detailed background and discussion now available online. The guideline development team also incorporated color-coded flow charts to highlight common decision-making points to make it user-friendly.
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