Inflammatory bowel disease during pregnancy

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Opinion statement

The management of both male and female patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) who wish to have a baby is challenging. For women, the most important factor to bear in mind is that the outcome of pregnancy is largely influenced by disease activity at the time of conception. Women with quiescent disease are likely to have an uncomplicated pregnancy with the delivery of a healthy baby, whereas women with active disease are more likely to have complications such as spontaneous abortions, miscarriages, stillbirths, and exacerbation of the disease. This is more true of patients with Crohn’s disease than of patients with ulcerative colitis. Although the safety of medications used during pregnancy is an important issue, the impact of the medications used to treat IBD is less important in comparison to disease activity itself. 5-Aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) products appear to be safe during pregnancy; corticosteroids are probably safe; 6-mercaptopurine and azathioprine should be used with caution; and methotrexate is contraindicated. There are inadequate data on the use of infliximab during pregnancy. In regard to men with IBD, the disease itself does not seem to have any negative impact on fertility. However, there is controversy about the effects of using 6-mercaptopurine and azathioprine prior to and during fertilization. In view of possible adverse pregnancy outcomes, it would be prudent to withhold 6-mercaptopurine and azathioprine therapy in men with IBD for 3 months prior to conception, when feasible. Most IBD medications should be continued before, during, and after pregnancy, with careful attention to the known cautions and exceptions. If IBD in a pregnant patient is in remission, the prognosis for pregnancy is the same as if she did not have IBD. Active disease should therefore be treated aggressively and remission accomplished before pregnancy is attempted. Similarly, a woman who unexpectedly becomes pregnant while her IBD is active should be treated aggressively, as remission remains the greatest investment for a favorable pregnancy outcome.