Is There a Connection Between IBS and Infertility?

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When you are experiencing the abdominal pain that is a hallmark symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it is quite understandable to worry that what is going on down there might contribute to a problem with infertility. As IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder, there is by definition, no visible inflammation or sign of disease. Thus, your IBS is most likely not causing any damage to any nearby organs, such as those of the reproductive system.

However, there is some research that a person who has IBS might have a higher risk of infertility, due perhaps to some shared underlying factors. Let's take a look at any possible connections.

IBS, Endometriosis and Infertility

Endometriosis is a gynecological disease in which endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus. Although the connection between endometriosis and infertility is not clear-cut, a high number of women who have endometriosis also have fertility difficulties.

For the purposes of the present discussion, research also indicates that women who have endometriosis are also at a higher risk for having IBS. Those although there is no evidence of a direct link between IBS and infertility, this overlap between IBS and endometriosis certainly warrants further investigation by researchers. If you have any concerns that you may have endometriosis alongside your IBS, speak with your gynecologist.

Gluten Sensitivity and Infertility

There is research that indicates that women who have celiac disease are at higher risk for infertility. On a related note, women, and perhaps men, who have unexplained infertility are at higher risk for having celiac disease. People who have IBS are at also at higher risk for having undiagnosed celiac disease and therefore should be screened for the disease.

What is less clear is whether a person who has a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a condition that may underlie some cases of IBS, is also at higher risk for infertility. Although one single case study has been published, it is clear that more research needs to be done on any possible links between IBS, a gluten sensitivity and infertility.

Prostatitis, IBS and Infertility

Prostatitis is an illness experienced by men in which there is inflammation or infection in the prostate gland. Prostatitis is considered to be a cause of infertility in men. Men who have chronic prostatitis are at higher risk for having IBS. If you are male and are experiencing bladder symptoms alongside your IBS, make an appointment with your physician for a proper diagnosis.

Other Reproductive Health Conditions that Cause Abdominal Pain

There are several reproductive health conditions that result in the symptom of abdominal pain and contribute to fertility difficulties. These conditions can be identified through the use of diagnostic testing for fertility difficulties.

So if you have IBS and are having difficulty getting pregnant, be sure that your doctor does not just "write off" your abdominal pain as being from IBS without further diagnostic investigation. The following reproductive health conditions sometimes cause abdominal pain as a symptom and can contribute to infertility:

The Bottom Line

As you can see, any possible connection between IBS and infertility is probably not common and most likely not direct. If you are experiencing infertility alongside your IBS, be sure that you have consulted with both a gastroenterologist as well as a gynecologist to ensure that any relevant health problems have been identified and diagnosed (e.g. endometriosis, celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, prostatitis or other relevant reproductive illness.) Once you have firm diagnoses, you can work with your medical team on proper treatment or management of each.

Sources:

Alshahrani, S., McGill, J. & Agarwal, A. "Prostatitis and male infertility" Journal of Reproductive Immunology 2013 100:30–36 Prostatitis and male infertility

Bold, J. & Rostami, K. "Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity and reproductive disorders" Gastroenterology and Hepatology From Bed to Bench 2015 8:294-297.

Seaman, H., et.al. "Endometriosis and its coexistence with irritable bowel syndrome and pelvic inflammatory disease: findings from a national case–control study—Part 2" BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology 2008 115: 1392-1396.

Vicari, E., et.al. "High Frequency of Chronic Bacterial and Non-Inflammatory Prostatitis in Infertile Patients with Prostatitis Syndrome Plus Irritable Bowel Syndrome" PloS One 2011 6:e18647.

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