It’s not fair, but it’s true: Chronic illnesses can affect you differently based on your gender. And that includes ulcerative colitis (UC), a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects the large intestine and the rectum.

Women who are living with UC often experience this disease differently from their male counterparts due to the short distance between the digestive and reproductive systems. So we asked Jason Schairer, M.D., the senior staff physician at the Henry Ford Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center in Detroit, Michigan, to share some key things you need to know as a woman with UC.

UC can make you feel ‘blah’

Sick and tired of being sick and tired? You’re not alone. Women with UC often find the condition takes a toll on their zest for life.

“While most women do extraordinarily well on a daily basis, night-time symptoms, medication side effects, and other autoimmune conditions can affect her energy level, mood, and motivation,” Dr, Schairer explains.

UC won’t make you infertile

If you’re diagnosed with UC, one of the first questions you may have for your doctor is about whether you can still have kids.

There’s good news here: “From a doctor’s perspective, UC should not significantly decrease the biologic ability to have children,” Dr. Schairer says.

… But family planning may seem more complicated with UC

UC can still make the idea of starting a family more daunting than usual.

According to Dr. Schairer, reasons why women with UC may fear having kids include:

  • They may be fatigued, depressed, or in pain.
  • They may worry that they can pass the disease onto their children (Remember: “Ninety-five percent of children born to UC mothers do not get UC,” he says.).
  • They may worry that the medications are bad for baby (“You can safely have a child on most of the medications,” he says.).

If you’re worried about any of these issues, bringing them up to your doctor is key, Dr. Schairer says — in many cases, they can help you find solutions.

And women with UC are indeed having fewer children

“Many women who live with UC have [fewer] children for fear that the disease could be passed onto their children or that the medications are unsafe for pregnancy,” Dr Schairer says. “In each of these cases, it is important for the person living with the disease and the physician to be open and honest about the effects the disease and the medications are having, and then to set goals for what we can improve.”

Reading about the experiences of women who have gone through pregnancy and motherhood with IBD may help reassure you.

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