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Dr. Fred Williams, St. Luke's Hospital

Some issues of digestive disorder unique to women

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a common digestive disorder that affects thousands of people. It is most frequently seen in adolescents and young adults, but it can be found in people at any age.

IBD is divided into two subtypes - Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Though there are several differences between these illnesses, the major one is Crohn's disease can affect the entire digestive tract from the mouth to the colon, where ulcerative colitis only affects the colon. Both of these disorders can result in multiple symptoms including diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, weight loss, fever, joint pain and skin lesions.

Though neither of these illnesses can be cured with medications, there are effective treatments. The combination of medication, proper nutrition and stress reduction can often cause symptoms to go into remission.

IBD affects both men and women, but there are some issues that are unique to women. Both IBD and the medications used to treat it can increase the risk of osteoporosis, a disorder that is more common in women. If you have IBD, ask your doctor if you should have a bone density study, and ask him or her if you should take vitamin D and calcium supplements.

Women with IBD typically have successful pregnancies and deliver healthy babies. Many of the medications used to treat IBD are safe to use during pregnancy. In fact, medications are often continued during pregnancy as it is generally believed that the risk from the medications to the fetus is less than the mother having active disease during pregnancy. It is important to keep in mind that prior to becoming pregnant, women should be in remission and be nutritionally sound. It is okay for women with IBD to breastfeed, though some medications may need to be stopped as they are secreted in breast milk.

Finally, it is also important to dispel the erroneous belief that women cannot become pregnant if they have active disease. Appropriate measures should be taken to avoid pregnancy during a disease flare.

Overall, IBD is a chronic disease that typically can be managed very effectively, and the majority of people with IBD live normal lives.

Dr. Fred Williams specializes in gastroenterology at St. Luke's Hospital. For more information on IBD treatment, call 314-205-6060.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 28, 2012.