Ulcerative colitis risk is linked to childhood physical and sexual abuse, according to research. The researchers at the University of Toronto uncovered that adults who were exposed to physical or sexual abuse in the childhood were approximately twice as likely to have ulcerative colitis.
Lead author Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson said, “We found that one-quarter of adults with ulcerative colitis reported they had been physically abused during their childhood, compared to one in 10 of those without inflammatory bowel disease. Similarly, the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse among those with ulcerative colitis was one in five versus one in 17 among those without the disease.”
The researchers examined a representative sample of 21,852 community-dwelling Canadians from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey – Mental Health.
Coauthor Joanne Sulman said, “The odds of ulcerative colitis were more than two times higher for those who reported that an adult had at least once kicked, bit, punched, choked, burned, or physically attacked them before the age of 16. Occurrences of ulcerative colitis were also more than twice as high in individuals who reported that during their childhood an adult had forced them or attempted to force them into any unwanted sexual activity, by threatening them, holding them down, or hurting them, in comparison to those who had not been sexually abused. These strong associations remained even after we took into account sociodemographic characteristics, mental health conditions, and health behaviors.”
Coauthor Keri West added, “In contrast to the strong association between childhood maltreatment and ulcerative colitis, we found no association between either type of abuse and Crohn’s disease. This was very surprising, because Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two forms of inflammatory bowel disease, and we expected that similar links would be apparent for the two disorders.”
Coauthor Stephanie Baird concluded, “This research was based on a cross-sectional survey and therefore we cannot determine a cause and effect relationship. However, with such a high proportion of subjects with ulcerative colitis reporting childhood maltreatment, future research is clearing warranted.”
Although the exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown, there are some factors that may increase a person’s risk, including:
Age: Being younger than the age of 30.
Race or ethnicity: Whites and Ashkenazi Jews have the highest risk of ulcerative colitis.
Family history: Ulcerative colitis has been found to run in families, so having a sibling, parent, or child with the disease increases your risk.
Isotretinoin use: Some studies have found that this medication used for acne increases one’s risk of inflammatory bowel disease, but a clear association between isotretinoin use and ulcerative colitis has not been established yet.