Effect of Healthy Relationships after Ulcerative Colitis Surgery

Quality of life after surgical treatment is an important part of recovery.

Quality of life after surgical treatment is an important part of recovery.

A study in Diseases of the Colon & Rectum suggests that changes in sexual function resulting from surgery to treat ulcerative colitis (UC) don’t necessarily coincide with changes in sexual satisfaction.

The finding is important because chronic diseases such as UC affect patients beyond the immediate need for treatment. Quality of life after surgical treatment is an important part of recovery.

“In ulcerative colitis, partner support for patients is believed to be particularly important for adjustment, coping, and stress reduction,” the study authors note. “Among those to whom it is available, the spouse or partner is the most important source of meaningful social support. It is therefore not surprising that marriage is protective against a wide variety of adverse health outcomes; however, relationship quality is more important in determining health outcomes than marital status itself.”

In particular, UC involves risk of perioperative complications, infertility, sexual dysfunction, and changes in bowel habits that can make a return to sexual activity a difficult proposition. Because surgery cures the condition, patients often report improved health-related quality of life.

Yet, earlier studies had shown that anxiety about overall health and other factors had contributed to deteriorating relationships in many cases.

The current study measured quality of life and sexual function in 74 patients, as well as relationship quality, empathy, and sexual satisfaction in patients and partners before and 6 months after surgery using validated questionnaires. The study sample included 37 patients (25 men and 12 women) and their opposite-sex partners.

The researchers found that quality of life improved significantly in male and female patients after surgery. Sexual function scores also improved after surgery in male and female patients; however, the changes reached statistical significance in male patients only.

Sexual satisfaction scores improved significantly after surgery in female patients and their partners. There was little change in relationship quality or empathy after surgery, with the exception of slightly improved relationship quality reported by male partners. In general, patients and partners reported levels of relationship quality and empathy similar to normative populations.

“Our results indicate that relationships are generally high quality and that there is little change in response to surgery in spite of dramatic improvements in health-related quality of life in men and women and improvements in sexual satisfaction in female patients and their partners,” the authors concluded. “These findings indicate that partnered patients with ulcerative colitis can expect a reasonable amount of stability (if not limited improvement) in their relationships after undergoing surgery in spite of all of the other changes associated with this major surgical procedure.”