Ulcerative colitis is characterized by inflammation, ulceration and bleeding in the colon. This inflammatory bowel disease has an autoimmune origin and takes a variable and unpredictable course. While the cause of UC is not thoroughly understood, there are a significant number of people suffering with the disease. Accurate data relating to the disease can be difficult to come by. Through continued research and disease tracking, some statistics have been compiled for different facets of ulcerative colitis. Dr. Graham Gibb, skilled colorectal surgeon, sheds light on ulcerative colitis by the numbers, statistics and trends:
Ulcerative colitis—UC–affects at least half a million people in the United States alone, with some estimates reaching nearly double that number. There will be up to 50,000 new diagnoses of ulcerative colitis in North America each year. The best available estimates show that the United Kingdom has at least 40,000 people living with ulcerative colitis and other countries in Western Europe share similar statistics. The incidence in South America, Japan and Asia is lower than in Europe and North America, but the number of cases in China has been rising over the past few decades. Interestingly, the northern regions of these countries have more cases of ulcerative colitis per capita than the southern areas.
The development of ulcerative colitis seems to depend on the interaction of many factors and may differ from person to person. Environmental and infectious agents may trigger the immune system. In people who are genetically susceptible, this may lead to the abnormal response that causes the immune system to attack the colon. About 10 to 30 percent of people who develop ulcerative colitis have a first-degree relative with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
Up to 80 percent of patients with ulcerative colitis have symptomatic flares punctuated by periods of remission. A small percentage will have a first episode so severe that emergency surgery is required. About 10 percent have chronic, severe disease without significant remissions. These individuals will usually require surgery at some point, also.
About thirty percent of affected individuals have only mild disease with ulcers confined to part of the colon and suffer just occasional flares. Others experience severe and unremitting misery. At its worst, ulcerative colitis causes dozens of episodes of bloody diarrhea per day with abdominal cramping, anemia, fatigue and fever.
Toxic megacolon is a rare but potentially fatal complication of ulcerative colitis in which the colon becomes obstructed, expands and perforates. Because the perforation leads to an infection in the abdominal cavity, the mortality rate without treatment is very high, approaching 50 percent.
Of all patients with ulcerative colitis, about one-third will eventually have a colectomy—surgery to remove the colon. For some ulcerative colitis sufferers, surgery becomes emergent due to life-threatening complications. For others, surgery remains as the only option when medical therapies fail, or when side effects limit their use. Some people will choose to have surgery somewhat electively to prevent future attacks and to eliminate the risk of colon cancer. If the colon is not removed, colon cancer occurs in about 10 percent of patients who have had ulcerative colitis for 20 years, and increases to 30 percent for patients with a 30 to 35 year history of disease.
Looking for commonalities and differences in a disease process and then studying those in more depth guides research. Hope for better treatments or a cure for ulcerative colitis rests on this research, making the understanding of the statistics and trends very valuable.
About Dr. Graham Gibb:– Dr. Graham Gibb has been a practicing surgeon for 18 years. He received specialized training in colorectal surgery from the University of Texas and completed his postgraduate work in general surgery in Calgary, Alberta. When he can get away from the hospital, Dr. Gibb loves taking advantage of his new pilot’s license and take in the beautiful scenery in Peterborough, Ontario.
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