Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are inflammatory bowel diseases, meaning they cause inflammation inside the intestines. This should not be confused with irritable bowel syndrome, a troublesome but less dangerous digestive disorder with no intestinal inflammation.
Crohn’s disease normally affects the lining of the lower part of the small intestine, but it may occur anywhere in the digestive tract. Possible symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, bleeding from the rectum, fever and weight loss. Complications sometimes follow, including intestinal blockage as a result of the thickening and scarring of the intestinal wall. Deep ulcers may bore into the tissue. Because digestion is severely disrupted, Crohn’s disease often causes nutritional deficiencies.
An equally serious disease, ulcerative colitis occurs only in the large intestine, or colon, causing inflammation and ulceration. Symptoms are similar to those of Crohn’s, with bouts of abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea, nausea and fatigue. Complications of ulcerative colitis may include liver disease, anemia, arthritis, osteoporosis, skin rashes and more.
Most women with inflammatory bowel disease are able to have children as long as their fertility and willingness to have sex are not affected by frequent episodes. You should know that while these are not inherited diseases, they do tend to run in families. I suggest you talk with your OB-GYN and your specialist or primary care physician before you start trying to get pregnant. Ask if the medications you take when you have symptoms are safe during pregnancy, and if not, what the alternatives are.
Together, you can plan ahead so you can be prepared for any and all contingencies that might arise during pregnancy or childbirth as a result of your chronic illness.