Crohn's Disease and Pregnancy
What Is Crohn's Disease?
Crohn's disease is a chronic -- long-term -- illness in which the intestine, bowel, or another part of the digestive tract becomes inflamed and ulcerated. Ulcerated means it is marked with sores. Along with ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease is part of a group of diseases known as inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD.
Crohn's disease most commonly affects the lower part of the small intestine. That part is called the ileum. The disease can, though, occur in any part of the large or small intestine, stomach, esophagus, or even the mouth. It can occur at any age, but it is most common between the ages of 15 and 30.
What Are the Symptoms of Crohn's Disease?
People with Crohn's disease experience periods of severe symptoms. These are followed by periods with no symptoms that can last for weeks or years. The period with no symptoms is called remission. Unfortunately, there is no way to know when a remission will occur or when symptoms will return.
The symptoms of Crohn's disease depend on where the disease is in the bowel. They also depend on its severity. In general, symptoms can include:
- chronic diarrhea
- rectal bleeding
- weight loss
- abdominal pain and tenderness (often on the right side of the lower abdomen)
- feeling of a mass or fullness in the lower, right abdomen
- delayed development and stunted growth (in children)
Does Crohn's Disease Affect Conception?
If you have active Crohn's disease you may have a more difficult time getting pregnant than you would when it's in remission. Ideally, you should be in good health and in remission when you conceive.
If a man who wants to become a father is taking sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) for Crohn's disease, he should ask his doctor to change his medication. Sulfasalazine can cause a lower sperm count.
The drug methotrexate is deadly to fetuses and newborn babies. If a man is taking methotrexate for Crohn's disease, he should stop taking it for three months before attempting conception. Women with Crohn's disease should avoid methotrexate before getting pregnant and while pregnant. If you are taking methotrexate after giving birth, you should not breastfeed.
If both parents have IBD, the child has about a one in three chance of having IBD. If only one parent has Crohn's disease, the chance of the baby getting the condition is about 9%.
Crohn's disease seems to affect children more severely than adults. A child with Crohn's disease may have slower growth and delayed sexual development.
How Does Crohn's Disease Affect Pregnancy?
For some people, pregnancy has a positive effect on Crohn's disease. Pregnancy can lessen the symptoms. This is probably because pregnancy itself causes a suppression of the immune system. That happens so the body won't reject the fetus.