This page in Swedish

More patients with ulcerative colitis but fewer surgeries

Carl Eriksson

Today, a higher number of patients with ulcerative colitis are able to keep their bowel and steer clear of surgery, as shown in a study from Örebro University. Carl Eriksson, doctoral student at Örebro University, has also shown that the number of people suffering from the disease is 10 times higher today than in the 60s.

Carl Eriksson has examined the outcome for people developing the inflammatory bowel disease ulcerative colitis in Örebro between 1963 and 2010. Over 1,000 patients are part of the study.

More than 1 in 5 patients diagnosed before 1975 had to undergo surgery. This can be compared to 12 per cent of the patients developing the disease between 1991 and 2005.

“The risk of having to undergo surgery is clearly reduced now. I would like to think that this has to do with improved treatments,” says Carl Eriksson.

Today, patients receive stronger treatments that reduce inflammation and symptoms. At the same time, his study shows that the number of people developing the disease is significantly higher today than in the 60s.

“There are 10 times as many sufferers from ulcerative colitis today as in the 60s. Why there has been such an increase is an interesting question. One reason could be the fact that we do not smoke as much.”

Research has shown that smoking protects against ulcerative colitis. Another reason, says Carl Eriksson, may be that healthcare has got better at identifying patients with inflammatory bowel conditions:

“More people are diagnosed since the examination methods are better today. But even if we account for that, there has been a significant increase,” says Carl Eriksson.

Ulcerative colitis is the most common inflammatory bowel disease and it mainly affects the colon. The disease is caused by the immune system reacting to normal gut bacteria, with an inflamed, ulcerous and bleeding mucosa as a result. This leads to symptoms such as abdominal pain and bloody diarrhoea.

Symptoms are eased with the help of medication but if the patient does not respond, surgical removal of the colon and rectum may be necessary. In such cases, patients often have to undergo a number of surgical procedures, and for a while have a colostomy – an opening in the abdomen.