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IBD and pregnancy: What to tell your patients


While many gastroenterologists may be comfortable with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), most are not experts in women’s concerns about pregnancy. One study found that, although women with IBD may have concerns about the interplay of their disease and reproductive health, many have not had extensive conversations with their gastroenterologist about it. In fact, that same study found most women expect their gastroenterologist to initiate these conversations.

GI & Hepatology News sought input from a patient advocate about questions women with IBD often think about but may not always discuss with their gastroenterologists, and then solicited responses from thought leaders in IBD and pregnancy. In this roundtable discussion, Uma Mahadevan, MD, professor of medicine and the director of the Colitis and Crohn’s Disease Center at the University of California, San Francisco; Marla C. Dubinsky, MD, professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York; and Sunanda V. Kane, MD, professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., share how they respond to these questions in their clinical practice.

What should a woman with IBD who is interested in having biological children in the future be thinking about now?

Dr. Mahadevan: Because active disease is associated with lower rates of conception and higher rates of pregnancy loss, women with IBD should first ensure they are in remission. I like to document endoscopic healing with a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, but, if this has been done recently, a fecal calprotectin test can be helpful.

Dr. Uma Mahadevan

Dr. Uma Mahadevan

Women with IBD, particularly those with small bowel disease, are at risk for nutritional deficiencies, so prior to conception, I also check vitamin B-12, vitamin D, and iron, and repeat as needed. Zinc and folate can be considered. Those who are underweight should work with a nutritionist to ensure adequate caloric intake.

Dr. Dubinsky: I think it’s also important to stress the importance of taking their IBD medications because they can help patients achieve and maintain disease remission. Uncontrolled inflammation is a key risk factor for spontaneous abortion in the first trimester. Medication we would use in pregnancy is not putting them at risk for spontaneous abortion or congenital anomalies, which is what mothers to be are understandably most concerned about.

I am very honest and transparent with my patients: “About the only thing I need to take care of is you. If you are good, the baby is good.”

Dr. Kane: As Dr. Mahadevan mentioned, women with IBD are at higher risk for vitamin deficiencies, so those need to be corrected before conception. If they smoke, they should stop before conceiving.

There is no increased risk of infertility unless there has been a history of abdominal surgery.

Also, if women are not actively planning on getting pregnant, that would be important to share because some gastroenterologists will avoid certain effective medications if pregnancy is a possibility.

If a woman has had surgery for her IBD, could that make it harder for her to get pregnant?

Dr. Kane: Yes, it can because scar tissue may develop within the pelvis. However, if surgery is indicated to manage a patient’s IBD, then talk to the surgeon about ways that they might be able to reduce the risk of scar tissue formation.


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