AUSTIN, TEX. – Patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) who want to have children can benefit from better education about recent findings that disease control, laparoscopic surgery, and in vitro fertilization (IVF) have improved their chances of conceiving, according to a review of published reports presented here at the Crohn’s & Colitis Congress, a partnership of the Crohn’s & Colitis Congress Foundation and the American Gastroenterological Association.
“Decreased fertility in IBD is due to voluntary childlessness, which we can change with education; surgery for IBD, which we can improve with laparoscopic surgery; and increased disease activity, which we can also make a difference in,” Sonia Friedman, MD, of Harvard Medical School, Boston, said in an interview.
Dr. Friedman and coauthors last year published an analysis of the Danish National Birth Cohort, which showed women with IBD had an 28% greater relative risk of taking a year or more to get pregnant than controls without IBD, and that the relative risk was even higher in women with Crohn’s disease — 54% (Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019.). “We found that women with Crohn’s surgery had decreased fertility by 2.54 times greater relative risk,” she said.
“Fertility, pregnancy is the most important thing to patients,” Dr. Friedman said in an interview. “That’s what people ask me about the most. In the population of IBD patients, the onset is age 15-35, and these people are in the prime of their reproductive years.” Sexual function, known to be decreased in men and women with IBD, is also an overriding concern in these patients, she said. “There needs to be a lot more information out there about it.”
She said gastroenterologists should keep in mind that much of the evidence documenting reduced fertility after ileo-pouch anal anastomosis is dated and focused on open surgery, which caused profound scarring of the pelvis and fallopian tubes, thus hindering conception. Laparoscopic ileoanal J-pouch surgery (IPAA) has yielded much improved outcomes in women of child-bearing age, she said, citing a study late last year that reported women who had laparoscopic IPAA had a median time to pregnancy of 3.5 months versus 9 months for women who had open IPAA ().
“It’s really important to discuss the issues of fertility, especially for patients contemplating surgery,” Dr. Friedman said. “Emphasize that there are good outcomes with laparoscopic surgery, and they can have assisted reproductive technology [ART], or in vitro fertilization, if needed. Never withhold surgery based on fear of infertility.”
Her practice is to refer women with IBD in remission for IVF if they’ve tried to get pregnant every month for a year or more and to refer women with IBD surgery for IVF after trying to get pregnant for 6 months. Dr. Friedman coauthored two studies of the Danish National Birth Cohort of ART in women with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) along with controls (; ). “We found that women with Crohn’s and UC had a decreased chance of having a clinical pregnancy, but they had no problem carrying the pregnancy to term,” she said.
Those findings raised questions about the etiology of decreased fertility in IBD patients, which could include factors such as IVF technique, reproductive hormone and microbiome changes, or IBD medications. “How can we carry that forward to all women with IBD?” she said. Women with IBD have less chance of conceiving with each IVF treatment cycle than do women without IBD, she said. “The most interesting thing is that the reduced chance of live birth after IVF treatment in Crohn’s and UC is related to the stages of implantation and not to the ability to maintain the fetus throughout pregnancy,” she said.
Dr. Friedman has no financial relationships to disclose.
The AGA IBD Parenthood Project can help guide your patients with IBD throughout their pregnancy, from trying to conceive through postpartum care. Learn more at IBDParenthoodProject.org.
SOURCE: Friedman S. Crohn’s & Colitis Congress, .