Women with IBD may be at higher risk for mental illness

By Tauren Dyson

Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Pregnant women with inflammatory bowel disease could have a higher chance of developing mental illness after giving birth, a new study says.

Nearly 23 percent of pregnant women with IBD had an increased risk of being diagnosed with at least two mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression, and substance abuse disorders, such as opioid addiction. The risk appeared particularly high in women with Crohn's disease, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Gut.


Researchers said the elevated risk for mental illness among people with IBD made it important to find if the risk is greater for women who are pregnant or have just given birth -- which is exactly what they found.

"There's increasing awareness about mental illness in women during pregnancy and postpartum," said Eric Benchimol, a researcher at the CHEO Research Institute at the University of Ottawa and study senior author, said in a news release. "We found the risk to be elevated during the post-partum period for women with IBD, particularly in the first 90 days after birth. We did not find an elevated risk during pregnancy."

IBD consists of a group of chronic gastrointestinal disorders that causes ulceration, inflammation and bleeding within the gastrointestinal tract. It also puts a person at risk for complications in other parts of the body.


The researchers believe inflammation in the gut may affect the brain.

"This is a small but significantly increased risk of new-onset mental illness in women with IBD," said Simone Vigod, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Women's College Hospital Research Institute. "Women with IBD face increased health challenges during pregnancy and after giving birth, and it's not just physical challenges. We need to look at both the physical and mental health needs of women and ensure they are getting the best treatment and support."

While the researchers observed some mental illnesses, they didn't see any evidence of increased risk for psychotic disorders like schizophrenia or hallucinations. However, the risk appeared elevated in women with Crohn's disease, but not ulcerative colitis.

"These findings are very important for both patients and healthcare providers in the IBD community," said Mina Mawani, President and CEO of Crohn's and Colitis Canada. "If a pregnant woman with IBD knows that there's an elevated risk of mental illness during the post-partum period, she should discuss this potential risk with her healthcare provider. It's important that healthcare providers are aware of this increased risk in women with IBD."

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