Things You May Not Know About Ulcerative Colitis

IBD Is A Confusing Disease That Has Many Complexities

Ulcerative colitis, which is one of the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), is still not well understood. Researchers still don't know exactly what causes ulcerative colitis or how to effectively prevent it. Even people who have been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis may not be aware of some of the quirks and inconsistencies of this disease. Below, find some information about some lesser-known and poorly-understood aspects of ulcerative colitis.

A Lost Appendix Lowers Risk

The appendix has a curious connection to the development of IBD. Image © A.D.A.M.

The appendix is a curious little organ that is located at the first bend in the large intestine. When it becomes inflamed, which is not uncommon, it is called appendicitis. Appendicitis is quite serious, and often requires treatment with surgery. If the inflamed appendix is not removed promptly, it can rupture and result in serious complications. It turns out that people who have had their appendix removed may be at a reduced risk of developing ulcerative colitis. There are several theories as to why this may be true, but there is no conclusive answer. Some may wonder if it isn't better to remove the appendix for those at risk of developing ulcerative colitis, but at this time that isn't recommended. Surgery carries too may risks, and may not be worth a benefit that may not come to pass.

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Nicotine's Effect On Ulcerative Colitis

Nicotine has a complicated relationship with ulcerative colitis. Image © Grant Cochrane /

Ulcerative colitis is often called a "disease of non-smokers." This is because some people with ulcerative colitis have either never smoked, or have quit smoking. It's not the act of smoking, or the smoke itself that has a connection, but rather it's thought to be the nicotine. Nicotine has been studied as a treatment for ulcerative colitis, but there has been no conclusion as to its possible use. It's not known how much nicotine would be helpful in inducing remission, or which patients would benefit. It is absolutely not recommended that people with ulcerative colitis take up smoking as a treatment for IBD. Smoking is associated with too many other potential complications, including colon cancer.

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Breastfeeding May Protect Against IBD

Nursing Baby
Nursing a baby could protect against IBD in the baby, and flare-ups in the mother. Image © Amber J Tresca

It's known that breastfeeding can help protect children against developing many diseases and conditions, and it appears as though ulcerative colitis might be one of the diseases on that list. Some studies have shown that babies who were breastfed as infants may have a reduced risk of developing ulcerative colitis later in life. There is also some emerging evidence that breastfeeding may also be beneficial for new mothers with ulcerative colitis: one study showed that flare-ups were lower in those women who breastfed their infants when compared to those who did not.


Moffatt DC, Ilnyckyj A, Bernstein CN. "A population-based study of breastfeeding in inflammatory bowel disease: initiation, duration, and effect on disease in the postpartum period." Am J Gastroenterol. 2009 Oct;104(10):2517-2523. Feb 24, 2014.

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Ulcerative Colitis Is An Autoimmune Disease

Double Helix
IBD is thought to be caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Image © A.D.A.M.

It's rather an open secret that IBD is an autoimmune disease. The causes of ulcerative colitis are not well understood, though it is thought to be a result of a complex interplay between genetics and environment. Autoimmune diseases are so called because the immune system attacks itself. People who have one autoimmune disease often develop another. Autoimmune diseases tend to be more common in young women, although IBD itself occurs equally in both men and women.

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Ulcerative Colitis Is Associated With Liver Disease

Many people with ulcerative colitis do not know that it is also associated with a liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). And, conversely, people with PSC are often diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. PSC is also diagnosed in people who have Crohn's disease, but to a lesser degree. The disease is more common in men that women, and in people who have more extensive disease (pan colitis).

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