Causes and Risk Factors for Ulcerative Colitis
Health August 22, 2018

Causes and Risk Factors for Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is classified as a type of inflammatory bowel disease (or IBD) that inflames the inner tissues of the rectum and colon (or large intestine). Also an autoimmune disease, ulcerative colitis causes white blood cells to attack healthy tissues in the intestine, causing inflammation and the gradual development of painful ulcers.

The symptoms of ulcerative colitis can be so uncomfortable that they impede daily life (i.e., work, school, social life). Symptoms—including painful abdominal cramps, bloating, constipation mixed with bouts of explosive diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, and in some cases, rectal bleeding—typically occur in bouts of flare ups followed by durations of remission. However, left untreated, ulcerative colitis can be dangerous and even life-threatening should an infection occur in the colon or rectum.

While ulcerative colitis is not curable, the disease can be managed with medical treatment (i.e., medication) and lifestyle changes. However, these are the risk factors to look out for:

1. Age

The majority of cases of ulcerative colitis are reported before age of 30. However, patients can be diagnosed at any age, with many not realizing an issue until after age 60.

2. Diet

While diet isn’t considered a cause of ulcerative colitis, if you’re prone to the disease due to other contributing factors, what you eat can exacerbate your condition. For example, many colitis patients double over in pain after eating spicy foods.

3. Low immunity

According to research from Web MD, medical researchers believe ulcerative colitis is more common in patients with weak immune systems, which triggers chronic inflammation in the large intestine and rectum when the white blood cells attack otherwise healthy tissues in the intestinal lining.

4. Genetics and ethnicity

Like many other chronic diseases, ulcerative colitis is considered genetic, meaning you’re at 20% higher risk if a sibling or parent was previously diagnosed with colitis. Ethnicity can also play a part. For instance, individuals of Caucasian and Ashkenazi Jewish descent are considered a higher risk group compared to the rest of the population.

5. Environmental factors

A 2017 study conducted by researchers at the Canadian Gastro-Intestinal Epidemiology Consortium, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, discovered that environmental factors can greatly impact gastrointestinal health. For instance, findings showed that city dwellers have 10% higher risk of developing IBD compared to those who live in rural surroundings.