Inflammatory bowel disease and pregnancy

J Clin Gastroenterol. 1982 Jun;4(3):231-49. doi: 10.1097/00004836-198206000-00008.


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) commonly affects women of childbearing age, leading to concerns about the effects of the disease on fertility and pregnancy, the effect of pregnancy on the disease, and the diagnosis and treatment of IBD in the pregnancy women. The literature regarding these issues is reviewed, and a representative case report is discussed. Ulcerative colitis has no effect on fertility. Crohn's disease appears to be associated with an increased risk of infertility. "Subfertility," a temporary inability to conceive associated with chronic disease activity, is perhaps a more suitable description. There have been no studies regarding infertility and males with IBD, although sulfasalazine has recently been reported to cause reversible infertility in men. Ulcerative colitis is not associated with a higher spontaneous abortion rate than the general population, although it is not clear whether certain subgroups of patients have a higher rate of abortion. A similar conclusion has been reached for Crohn's disease, although reported abortion rates of 10-25% are somewhat higher than the general population. Approximately 30-50% of pregnant women with ulcerative colitis have exacerbations during their pregnancy or postpartum, a figure that is applicable to Crohn's disease as well, and which is no different than a control population of nonpregnant women with IBD. Patients with active ulcerative colitis at conception have a higher incidence of disease exacerbation than those with quiescent disease. Postpartum recurrences are more frequent in Crohn's disease, occurring in up to 40% of patients, but respond to standard medical therapy. Women who have had an ileostomy for ulcerative colitis consistently and successfully carry pregnancy to term. There is no data regarding women who have had an ileostomy for Crohn's disease. The approach to the women with abdominal pain during pregnancy is reviewed, including the use of radiographic procedures. No amount of radiation exposure can be considered safe, but the judicious use of standard radiographic tests when considered necessary for the health of the mother appear to be associated with little risk for the fetus. The medial treatment of IBD during pregnancy is the same as that for the nonpregnant patient. Despite animal data to the contrary, the bulk of human data suggests that steroids, when used to treat a variety of conditions including IBD, pose little risk to the human fetus. Similarly, despite the theoretical risk of kernicterus, sulfasalazine appears to be a safe drug even when used during the third trimester of pregnancy.U

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Spontaneous / etiology
  • Adolescent
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / therapeutic use
  • Adult
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / complications*
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / therapy
  • Crohn Disease / complications*
  • Crohn Disease / therapy
  • Female
  • Fetus / radiation effects
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Ileostomy / adverse effects
  • Infertility, Female / etiology*
  • Intestinal Obstruction / surgery
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology*
  • Radiotherapy Dosage
  • Sulfasalazine / therapeutic use


  • Sulfasalazine
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone