Like most people I had never heard of Natural Killer Cells, or NK cells as they’re also known, up until a few years ago. After suffering five devastating miscarriages and exhausting all of the tests the NHS had to offer I was left none the wiser as to why I couldn’t carry a pregnancy to term.
One morning I was sitting down with a cup of tea, watching my regular entertainment and news programme, when a segment regarding recurrent miscarriages came on. My ears pricked up when Dr Shehata, a leading miscarriage consultant, mentioned the link between early miscarriages and women having a high level of these NK cells.
I immediately booked a consultation with Dr Shehata, and after undergoing a few tests just a few weeks later it was confirmed that I had a high level of NK cells, and this was more than likely the cause of my recurrent miscarriages. Whilst I was initially devastated to discover that my body had been attacking each pregnancy I was also relieved that we finally had an answer and a complex treatment plan was put in place.
So what are NK cells?
- NK cells are sub-types of white blood cells which, as part of the body’s defence mechanism, fight off infections
- every organ has particular NK cells to protect it, with the womb having the most. Here, NK cells are set up to help blood supply development to the foetus, and to recognise that foreign cells coming into the body from the father or egg donations are ‘body-friendly’
- however, if you have a higher number than normal of NK cells, or they’re more aggressive than usual, they may attack rather than protect a pregnancy and cause a miscarriage
- in some cases, high levels of NK cells can prevent implantation/pregnancy in the first place. It is possible to treat women who have problems with both conception and miscarriage
What treatment is available for NK cells?
- Dr Shehata says: ‘Steroids are the main drug used as treatment and they work by reducing the percentage of NK cells in the womb. Then there are intralipid infusions and other drugs that we use and combine, according to tests we’ve done’
- everyone has different levels of NK cells, no two women are the same, so treatment has to be tailored to the individual. ‘Once a woman is identified as having NK cells, my job is about getting the right combination of medication to get the right balance in the cells,’ says Dr Shehata
- medication is reduced gradually after 12-16 weeks of pregnancy. ‘By 10 weeks, the foetus starts producing its own steroids,’ says Dr Shehata. ‘I advocate weaning off the treatment from around 12 weeks, then the baby and the placenta produce natural components of these immune substances themselves’
- most doctors are aware of the condition, however, the treatment has not yet got enough scientific proof of being effective or safe to be offered on the NHS, therefore is only available privately
I unfortunately went on to suffer a sixth miscarriage shortly after my diagnosis of high NK cells, but my treatment plan was tweaked and in June 2016 we welcomed our gorgeous baby boy Max into the world.
A lot is still unknown about NK cells and their effect on pregnancies, and there are still many professionals out there who are sceptical about the treatment that is offered. However I genuinely believe that if it wasn’t for the help of Mr Shehata, and the discovery of my elevated NK cells level, that I would still be battling to achieve my dream of becoming a mum.