(RxWiki News) If you were alive a half century ago, did you know anyone with Crohn's or ulcerative colitis? Chances are, probably not. But it's far more likely that you've heard of the diagnosis now.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is becoming more common worldwide, according to a study published in the journal Gastroenterology.
Researchers found that the incidence of IBD is either increasing or stable in every region of the world with data about the disease, and that it's more common in developed countries than developing countries.
"Ask your doctor about symptoms that might indicate IBD."
The study was led by Dr. Gilaad G. Kaplan, of the University of Calgary in Canada. He said the goal of the study was to estimate the burden of IBD across the globe, so that the appropriate funds can be allotted to aid people with the disease.
IBD is an umbrella condition that describes many diseases, the most well-known being Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
Crohn's is an autoimmune condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract, causing stomach pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and sometimes bleeding. Ulcerative colitis occurs in the colon or rectum, and symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps and rectal bleeding.
Estimating the incidence of IBD worldwide was a difficult task, especially in developing countries in Asia and Africa. In these places, there's no standardized collection of information about IBD from patients.
The researchers evaluated all the population-based studies of IBD in every region of the world. They found, based on the available data, that prevalence was either increasing or stable in every area studied.
Prevalence was highest in Canada and Europe, and lowest in Asia. In developing countries, IBD was still rare, but the research suggests that prevalence increases as countries industrialize – a common trend throughout the developing world.
They also found that IBD was most common in the age range of 20 to 40. That's worrisome for public health, the study authors say, because the disease comes with long term health care costs, and threatens to become a burden on the health care system.
The science is still out on the cause of IBD. Possible explanations include genetic and environmental factors. Dr. Kaplan points to the makeup of the bacteria in the gut as a likely suspect for the rising prevalence of these diseases.
This theory posits that as countries develop, their citizens are exposed to a less diverse assortment of microbes. This could make the difference between a healthy, resilient immune system and one that is vulnerable to IBD.
The research was published in January 2012.