How Does Cystic Fibrosis Affect Fertility?

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease affecting water and salt flow into and out of cells. This causes mucus to build up in the airways and digestive tract, causing lung damage, growth problems, and severe symptoms. CF complications also include infertility and problems in pregnancy.

Continue reading to learn more about CF and fertility, including the treatments that may help you conceive. 

Couple looking at pregnancy test results

Photodjo / Getty Images

What Is Infertility?

Infertility is being unable to conceive a child after one year of unprotected sexual intercourse. Some people with infertility can still have biological children through assisted reproduction. 

Cystic Fibrosis Fertility in Men

About 97%–98% of males with CF are infertile. That’s because most men with the condition are born without vas deferens tubes through which sperm travels through before ejaculation. This is known medically as congenital bilateral absence of the vas deferens (CBAVD). Because of CBAVD, there is no sperm present in the semen of men with CF.

However, most men with CF are still able to have biological children. In fact, 90% of men with CF and CBAVD have functioning testes that produce sperm. Therefore, they can have a surgical sperm retrieval, which is done by a urologist. The sperm can then be implanted through the assisted reproductive technologies of in vitro fertilization (IVF) or intrauterine insemination (IUI).

Cystic Fibrosis and Family Planning

Although most men with CF are infertile, not all are. So, it’s important to use contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancy. 

Cystic Fibrosis Fertility in Women

Most women with CF are able to get pregnant and carry a pregnancy to term. About 85% of couples in which the woman has CF will conceive within a year of trying. However, some women with CF may struggle to conceive because the condition can cause thick cervical mucus, making it difficult for sperm to meet the egg. CF can also cause irregular ovulation.

If you have CF, talk to your healthcare provider before trying to conceive. That way, you'll have a plan for trying to conceive, and when to seek help. 

Fertility Treatments

Some couples in which one partner has CF will need assisted reproduction—especially if the man has CF. For people with CF, the most common types of assisted reproduction are:

  • Surgical sperm retrieval: This procedure to collect sperm from men with CF who have CBAVD but functioning testes is performed by a urologist.
  • IUI: Intrauterine insemination is a procedure in which sperm is deposited directly into the uterus, increasing the chances of conception.
  • IVF: In vitro fertilization is a procedure in which the sperm and egg are combined in a lab and implanted into the uterus. 

Will My Child Have Cystic Fibrosis?

Genetic screening on embryos created via IVF can detect CF. A genetic counselor can help you understand the risks of having a biological child when you have CF.

Other Options

Having a biological child is the right choice for some people with CF; for others, it is not. Only you and your partner can make that decision. Consider all options for growing your family, including:

  • Third-party reproduction: Third-party reproduction uses donated sperm, eggs, or both. The intended parent can carry the child or use a surrogate
  • Embryo adoption: Embryo adoption involves becoming pregnant with embryos that are already formed and have no biological relation to you or your partner. 
  • Adoption: Adoption from foster care, international adoption, or domestic infant adoption are all options. 

Summary

Most men with CF are infertile but still produce sperm, so they may be able to have a biological child using assisted reproduction. Most women with CF are able to conceive and carry a pregnancy without complications, but about 15% will experience infertility. 

A Word From Verywell 

CF impacts most areas of life, including fertility. If you or your partner has CF and you are considering having a child, talk to your healthcare provider, a fertility specialist, and/or a genetic counselor about your options. If having a biological child isn’t the best option for you, third-party reproduction or adoption might be. A counselor can help you and your partner, if you are part of a couple, weigh the benefits and risks of these decisions.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is infertility in women with cystic fibrosis?

    About 15% of women with CF have infertility, defined as being unable to get pregnant after a year of unprotected sex.

  • How common is infertility in men with cystic fibrosis?

    Almost all men with CF are infertile: 97%–98% of men with CF do not have the tube that allows sperm to be ejaculated. However, 90% of these men produce sperm and therefore may be able to have a biological child with assisted reproduction. 

  • Can you still have a biological child if you are infertile?

    Yes, you can still have a biological child if you’re infertile. Infertility is defined as being unable to conceive after one year of trying. However, it’s still possible for some people with infertility to have biological children by using assisted reproduction like IVF. 

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Fertility in women with CF.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infertility FAQs.

  3. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The biology of male reproduction and CF.

  4. MedlinePlus. Cystic fibrosis.

  5. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Assisted reproduction and CF.