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Immune System and Fertility

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Your immune system protects you against infectious organisms and other things that cause disease. The main defenders of your body are the white blood cells which seek out invading organisms and destroy them. When a foreign substance is found, some of the white blood cells produce a substance called an antibody which locks on to the intruder. Other white blood cells, called T cells, destroy the intruders that are tagged with antibodies.

Once your body produces antibodies, those antibodies are always in your body so if the same intruder returns some day, the antibodies are already in place to attack it. That’s why once you get an infectious disease like chicken pox, you usually do not get sick from it again.

Immune testing is a type of diagnostic test that may help uncover the cause of your infertility or recurring pregnancy loss and increase your chance of a successful pregnancy. You may hear about two types of immune tests.

The Antisperm Antibody Test

Sometimes the female immune system sees sperm as a foreign substance and produce antibodies against it. This rarely causes infertility in women. However, if a man’s immune system responds to his semen as a foreign substance, his antibodies can damage or kill the sperm and make it difficult for them to fertilize an egg. These antisperm antibodies are usually due to an infection, injury, or surgery. About one-third of infertility cases are attributed to male fertility problems, usually because the man cannot produce or deliver fully-functioning sperm. If no other cause for infertility can be found, the male partner may be asked to take an antisperm antibody test. The greater the quantity of sperm with antibodies is in the semen, the less likely the female is to get pregnant.

Killer Cells

Sometimes when people have an organ transplant, like a new kidney or heart, their immune system sees the transplant as something foreign and rejects it. The same thing can happen when you are pregnant. If your immune system does not properly adjust for pregnancy, some T cells called killer cells may see the fetus as a foreign invader and attack it.

A biopsy of the endometrial lining of your uterus can determine if you have a higher than normal level of killer cells. High levels of these cells may correlate to rejection-related pregnancy loss.