5 Ways IBD Can Harm Your Health

How the impact of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can extend beyond the digestive system.

A woman consults with her gastroenterologist.

Aside from uncomfortable and inconvenient symptoms, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can affect many aspects of one’s health—from their self-confidence, to their sex life, to their absorption of essential nutrients. Learn more about the unexpected side effects of IBD, and how to take control of the chronic condition.

Q: How can inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affect other parts of my body?

A: Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can affect other parts of the body through what's called extraintestinal manifestations of inflammatory bowel disease. These are manifestations outside the gut. One of the most common extraintestinal manifestations is joint pain. Some people may notice, particularly if they have colitis, that during flares, their knees, elbows and hips may hurt.

Another extraintestinal manifestation of IBD is cold sores in the mouth, called aphthous erosions or ulcers. They sometimes correspond with flares. People also sometimes experience very red and painful eyes because inflammatory bowel disease is associated with some ophthalmologic conditions, including uveitis and iritis.

Q: How can inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affect my sex life?

A: Inflammatory bowel disease, as well as the surgery and medicines used to treat it, can all affect your sex life. Sometimes, you may just feel too tired to have sex. You may also have emotional issues related to the disease. For instance, you may not feel as confident about your body as you did before you got the disease. Even though it may be embarrassing, it is important to talk to your doctor if you are having sexual problems. She or he may have treatments that can help.

Q: If I have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), is pregnancy safe for me?

A: You should talk with your doctor before getting pregnant. If you think you might be pregnant, call your doctor right away. Some of the medicines used to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can harm the growing fetus.

If possible, your disease should be in remission for 6 months before becoming pregnant. It is also best if you have not started a new treatment or are taking corticosteroids. If you are already pregnant, you should continue taking your medicines as your doctor has told you to take them. If you stop taking your medicines and your disease flares, it may be hard to get it back under control.

Q: Does inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) increase my risk of colon cancer?

A: Inflammatory bowel disease is associated with an increased lifetime risk for colorectal cancer. Over time, the inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to abnormal changes in the cells called dysplasia, which are a warning sign of cancer. While the majority of patients with IBD will never develop colorectal cancer, it is important to attend your regular checkups so that your doctor can screen for cancer.

Q: Can inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affect my monthly period?

A: Yes. Some women with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) feel worse right before and during their menstrual periods than at other times. Diarrhea, abdominal pain, and other symptoms can be more severe during these times. Women with IBD and their doctors should keep track of these monthly changes in symptoms. This will prevent over treating the disease.

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