IBD and Sexual Health: Is There a Link?
Are men with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) more likely to experience erectile dysfunction? In a recent study, approximately 39% of men experienced some sexual dysfunction and 94% had erectile dysfunction.
It’s too soon to declare a physical relationship between the conditions, though, says Bruce Kava, M.D., urology expert and director of men’s health for the University of Miami Health System.
“A trend was seen in this research study of 67 men,” he says. “Larger groups of men will need to be studied in prospective clinical trials.” Other physical and mental health factors related to ED also should be factored into the analysis. Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, depression, obesity, and smoking are all risk factors for erectile dysfunction, which is highly prevalent in the adult male population.
What is inflammatory bowel disease?
IBD causes your digestive tract to become chronically inflamed. IBDs, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, can affect both men and women equally. Crohn’s disease occurs in any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Ulcerative colitis only occurs in the large intestine (the colon). Typically, your doctor will prescribe medications to treat these conditions. But if your case is severe, it may require surgery.
“The main cause of IBD is a malfunctioning immune system,” says Dr. Kava. “One’s body loses the ability to fend off viruses, bacterial infections and other risks. Genetics also play a role. Between 5 percent and 20 percent of diagnosed individuals have a family member who also has the disease.”
Why would IBD cause erectile dysfunction?
“It is not so clear, and further studies need to be done in this area,” says Dr. Kava. “The majority of patients diagnosed with IBD are young, between 15 and 40. Typical IBD symptoms include increased bowel frequency, pain in the belly, tiredness, fatigue and/or incontinence. It can be an embarrassing time and a time when one feels less confidence in any intimate encounter. Patients may have less interest anyway in being sexual due to the changes happening in their bodies.”
IBD may impact your sexual health. “Depression and/or anxiety are the greatest risk factors for sexual dysfunction, whether healthy or being treated for a disease of the colorectal area,” says Dr. Kava.
Let’s talk about sex: Improving doctor-patient dialogue
Open dialogue. It’s the best way for physicians and surgeons to help you prevent or address sexual health issues. At the University of Miami Health System, new doctors train on how to initiate patient conversations about sex.
“We developed a computer simulation program that allows medical students and residents the opportunity to interact with animated avatar patients,” says Dr. Kava. “It allows them to gain practice in a safe, supervised environment, before ever treating actual patients.”
According to Dr. Kava, the teaching faculty can change the simulated patient’s age, race, and general appearance in addition to advancing time with the flick of a switch. The simulator adapts communication cues and simulations based on those cultural or age variations.
“Overall, the medical profession can and must do a better job communicating with patients about how medical conditions affect psychological well-being and sexual health,” he says. “If we can utilize technology as one way to improve that for future patients, we want to take advantage of that possibility.”
UHealth offers treatment options for men experiencing sexual dysfunction. Problems such as ED, premature ejaculation, Peyronie’s Disease, as well as a number of other disorders that extend to male fertility are managed by our highly experienced physicians.
Women should contact a doctor if they are experiencing frequent changes in sexual response, orgasm, physical desire, and/or discomfort.
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John Senall is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News. He is a former hospital and comprehensive cancer center communications director.