In a study recently published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Mayo Clinic researchers report that cases of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis – the main conditions that comprise inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – are on the rise.
“More people are being diagnosed with IBD than 15 years ago,” says says study senior author Edward Loftus Jr., M.D., a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and epidemiology researcher. “This painful and debilitating disease affects many more than we knew.”
He adds, “This increase continues an unfortunate trend we observed 10 years ago.”
The current study examining the population of Olmsted County, Minnesota, in 2011, found that the proportion of the population diagnosed with Crohn’s disease increased by 41 percent and those diagnosed with ulcerative colitis increased by 34 percent when compared to diagnoses made at the beginning of the decade.
Dr. Loftus and his colleagues have been keeping an eye on IBD for many years. But for Dr. Loftus, this research journey is a personal one. A close family member diagnosed with ulcerative colitis as a child inspired Dr. Loftus’ career focus. He became a gastroenterologist to be able to provide the best possible medical care for patients with IBD and other conditions affecting the digestive system.
His work has helped chart the course of IBD for decades, and informed health care. “Some studies elsewhere have suggested that rates are stabilizing, but this is clearly not the case,” he says.
Their findings come from medical records research using the Rochester Epidemiology Project – a medical records linkage system within a regional collaboration in southeast Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin.
“The population of the Rochester Epidemiology Project is not as racially or ethnically diverse as the United States as a whole,” says Dr. Loftus. “And other factors may also be in play that could make our population’s rates a bit higher than what might be expected in, say, San Diego, Phoenix or Atlanta. But other studies also are showing similar findings, and overall, an increase is concerning”
The numbers they discovered in their study lead the researchers to estimate 1.6 million people in the United States are currently living with inflammatory bowel disease.
(Dr. Loftus discusses this more in a related interview published in Gastroenterology & Hepatology.)
Without effective treatment, many needs of these patients go unmet. Dr. Loftus’ research seeks not only treatments for IBD, but to improve understanding across a range of gastrointestinal disorders. More clarity, he hopes, will lead to better care and better health for people everywhere. Ultimately, Dr. Loftus and his colleagues hope to find the best ways to prevent these diseases.
— Elizabeth Zimmermann Young, Feb. 20, 2017