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University of Toronto researchers analyzed data from nearly 22,000 Canadians aged 18 and older. They found that those with a history of childhood abuse were nearly twice as likely to have ulcerative colitis as those who hadn't suffered abuse.
In ulcerative colitis, inflammation and sores develop in the innermost lining of the large intestine, according to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America. Symptoms include diarrhea, bloody stools and abdominal pain.
"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," study lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, a professor in the university's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, said in a university news release.
"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," she added.
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 age 16, compared to those who hadn't suffered physical abuse, study co-author Joanne Sulman, an adjunct lecturer at Factor-Inwentash, said in the news release.
"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," Sulman added.
Only an association, rather than a cause-and-effect link, was seen between childhood abuse and ulcerative colitis later in life.
The study was published online recently in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.
The researchers were surprised to find no association between childhood abuse and Crohn's disease, another type of inflammatory bowel disease.
In North America, ulcerative colitis affects 249 of every 100,000 people and Crohn's affects 319 of every 100,000, according to the researchers.
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SOURCE: University of Toronto, news release, August 2015