Irritable bowel syndrome affects about 20% of people in the UK. It’s more common in women than in men, and tends to affect people in their 20s and 30s so it stands to reason that many women who become pregnant will also have IBS. Here we answer some common questions about IBS and pregnancy.
Probably not. Some research has suggested a possible link between IBS and an increased risk of miscarriage but the evidence isn’t conclusive. If you have had three or more miscarriages then it’s worth discussing that with your GP, as there might be an underlying issue there, even if it’s not related to your IBS.
If you are planning a pregnancy, there are a few things to consider: making sure you’re a healthy weight, taking regular exercise and quitting smoking will all reduce your chance of experiencing complications in pregnancy. If you take medication for your IBS you should discuss this with your doctor before trying for a baby. Whilst some medications are ok to take whilst pregnant, others are not recommended and you may choose to stop taking some medications during your pregnancy.
The good news is that your baby is very unlikely to be affected if you have IBS and you are pregnant. The only exception would be if you have particularly severe and prolonged diarrhoea due to your IBS, which could stop your body properly absorbing nutrients. This is uncommon with IBS.
Yes, it’s quite likely that your symptoms will be different during your pregnancy. Many of the features of IBS such as bloating, nausea, constipation and heartburn are also very common in pregnancy, and it’s possible that the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy could worsen things for you. Interestingly, however, some research suggests that many women with IBS notice an improvement in their symptoms whilst pregnant!
There are several steps you can take to relive symptoms of IBS:
Yes, there are treatments available for nausea, heartburn, constipation, bloating and diarrhoea, which are suitable for pregnant women to take. It’s best if you discuss the medication with a pharmacist or with your GP first, though, as some IBS treatments could be associated with risks in pregnancy.
Dr Emma Scott (MBChB, MRCGP) is a qualified GP and mummy to two young children. She works in a GP practice in Edinburgh and in the out of hours GP service in Livingston and she has experience in both obstetrics & gynaecology and paediatrics.
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