What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease? How does it Affect Relationships, Sexual Health and Fertility?

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease? How does it Affect Relationships, Sexual Health and Fertility?


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term for a variety of illnesses involving persistent inflammation of the intestines. The following are IBD types:

  • Ulcerative colitis is a condition in which the intestines become inflamed. Inflammation and sores (ulcers) occur along the superficial lining of your large intestine (colon) and rectum.

  • Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel illness that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, which can often affect the deeper layers of the digestive tract.

Diarrhea, rectal bleeding, stomach pain, fatigue, and weight loss are common symptoms of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. IBD is debilitating, and it can lead to life-threatening consequences in some cases.


The severity of inflammation and where it occurs determine the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. The signs and symptoms could be minimal or severe. Periods of active illness will most likely be followed by periods of remission.

Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis share the following signs and symptoms:

  • Diarrhea

  • Fatigue

  • Cramping and pain in the abdomen

  • Reduced appetite 

  • Blood in the stool

  • Weight loss


Inflammatory bowel disease has yet to be identified with a cause. Diet and stress were formerly suspected, but doctors now know that these factors can aggravate IBD but aren’t the cause.

Dysfunction of the immune system is one probable cause. When the immune system tries to fight off an invading virus or bacteria, an abnormal immunological response causes the immune system to attack digestive tract cells as well. IBD is more common in persons who have family members who have the disease, which suggests that heredity may play a role. Most persons with IBD, on the other hand, do not have this family history.

Risk factors

  • Age: A majority of persons with IBD are diagnosed before they reach the age of 30. Some people, however, have a close relative with the condition, such as a parent, sibling, or child, and you’re at a higher risk.

  • Smoking cigarettes: The most important controllable risk factor for Crohn’s disease is cigarette smoking.

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications: These drugs may raise the risk of IBD or worsen the condition in persons who already have it.


Treatment for IBD varies depending on the type and symptoms. Medications can help you manage inflammation so that you don’t have any symptoms (remission). The following medications are used to treat IBD:

  • Aminosalicylates (anti-inflammatory drugs like sulfasalazine, mesalamine, or balsalazide) reduce gastrointestinal irritation.

  • Antibiotics are used to treat infections and abscesses.

  • Biologics work by interrupting the immune system’s inflammation-causing messages.

  • Prednisone and other corticosteroids keep the immune system in balance and manage flare-ups.

  • Immunomodulators are drugs that help to calm down a hyperactive immune system.


While there is no way to avoid IBD, certain dietary and lifestyle adjustments can help manage the symptoms. You can do the following:

  • Every two to four hours eat a smaller meal.

  • Find healthy ways to cope with stress, such as meditation, movement such as tai chi, music, or taking a walk.

  • Get plenty of rest and maintain a healthy level of physical activity.

  • Keep a food journal to track which foods cause IBD flare-ups.

  • Foods that irritate the intestines, such as fibrous, spicy, oily, or dairy-based foods, should be avoided. Choose soft, bland foods that are low in inflammation during flare-ups.

  • Caffeinated, carbonated, and alcoholic beverages should be avoided. To avoid dehydration, drink more water.


Although IBD is a lifelong condition, it should not limit your lifespan. You can avoid flare-ups and enjoy long periods of remission with the right treatment.

Managing a chronic illness like IBD can be difficult. It’s common for persons with IBD to experience anxiety or depression. A visit to a mental health counselor may be beneficial.

Affect on Relationships

Relationships are difficult. Developing a deep relationship with another person while managing dating, sex, and family planning may be difficult for anyone. When inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is added to the mix, things become much more problematic.

IBD can take a physical and mental toll, making dating challenging. People with IBD may find it difficult to maintain a positive body image. This is especially true for women with the condition, who are more prone than men to have body image issues.

Another symptom of IBS that can make dating difficult is fatigue, as many people are simply too fatigued to consider out on a date.

When it comes to dating IBD, mental health issues play a significant part. People with IBD are more likely to suffer from depression and/or anxiety, which can lead them to isolate themselves rather than seek companionship.

If someone with IBD has gone from dating to a relationship, the next step may be to disclose to their partner their illness. Bringing up health concerns during the early stages of a relationship can be unpleasant, especially if the concerns include potentially embarrassing symptoms.

Affect on Sexual Health

Despite the fact that most people with IBD are physically capable of having sex, the disease can make sexual interactions difficult.

According to a study of over 50 research, between 35 percent to 58 percent of patients with IBD had reduced sexual performance. Women are more likely than men to develop sexual dysfunction as a result of IBD, just as they are with body image difficulties. This involves a lack of sex interest, less frequent intercourse, and decreased sexual satisfaction.

Physical symptoms of IBD, such as pain and fatigue, as well as psychological symptoms, such as negative body image and worry, can have an impact on a person's sex life.

Patients with IBD would have a similar rate of sexual activity to healthy people, but with a lower satisfaction rate.

Affect on Fertility

When it comes to family planning, IBD should be taken into account. While there is little evidence that IBD affects fertility when it is not active, side effects such as decreased sex drive, chronic stomach discomfort, depression, and anxiety can increase infertility.

Women with IBD who exhibit symptoms of their disease during pregnancy have a higher risk of miscarriage and low birth weight than women who do not have the disease, and certain drugs used to treat IBD symptoms may not be recommended during pregnancy.

If you have active IBD, especially Crohn’s disease, your chances of getting pregnant may be slightly reduced. Inflammation of the small intestine might disrupt the fallopian tubes, making pregnancy more difficult. There’s also some evidence that Crohn’s disease is linked to a decrease in ovarian reserve in women over 30.

Participants with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease had similar psychological profiles. Given the close link between psychological functioning and disease activity in people with active IBD, it’s crucial to be aware of any associated issues. Living with IBD can both positively and negatively affect your relationships with family, friends, and significant others. Your social life may be more difficult as a result of ulcerative colitis, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. If this is the case, discuss with your doctor how well your treatment is working for you. 

There will be certain concerns to address, as well as other issues that may need to be adjusted. Symptoms, treatment options, medicine, and surgery may all be discussed, as well as how Crohn’s or colitis may affect psychological aspects like self-esteem, fatigue, and depression.

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