Increase in young people suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases

23 January 2013

In Europe, about three million patients suffer from an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis with a peak occurring between the ages of 20 and 30.

The number of people suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases has increased by ten to 15 times in highly developed countries over the last five decades. Chronic inflammatory diseases include asthma, diabetes mellitus type 1, multiple sclerosis and various types of chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Children and adolescents are increasingly becoming more affected by all these.

The European Crohn’s and Colitis Organisation (ECCO) and the European Federation of Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis Associations (EFCCA) call for attention and collective action over the increase in IBD.

Univ. Prof Dr Walter Reinisch, of Vienna General Hospital – Medical University Vienna, said, "The genetic disposition can only explain a small amount of these diseases. The major triggers of chronic inflammatory diseases are environmental factors.” An inaccurate and unbalanced diet, drugs like antibiotics, smoking, stress, the lifestyle and living environment in cities and increased hygiene seem to be the main reasons which lead to inflammatory diseases. The Viennese gastroenterologist has dealt with different types of chronic inflammatory diseases for decades, especially in IBD.

Massive increase in chronic inflammatory bowel disease

Stomach ache, diarrhoea lasting for weeks, loss of weight, fatigue, loss of power, fever: if such symptoms keep occurring in intervals this could be an indication for IBD. The ordeal of patients is part of their daily life. It is an enormous constraint if a patient has to use the toilet up to 20 unforeseen times a day. At times patients and doctors report that social contacts are abruptly ended as IBD has such an impact on their social lives.

Reinisch underlines the importance of a focused fight for enhanced bowel health. “We experience an epidemic of diseases concerning the bowel which was not the case 50 years ago. The amount of young patients with chronic diseases is rapidly increasing. The number of children which needed stationary treatment due to heavy chronic IBD has doubled in Austria during the last 15 years. Also, the mortality rate doubles within IBD patients under the age of 25.”

Despite intensive research still no cure in sight

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are chronic diseases which affect patients throughout their whole life. Typically, women and men are equally concerned by these diseases which usually start between the second and third life decade.

However, children are also affected. In many cases there is no explicit evidence for crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in diagnostic findings. Therefore, further examinations, especially colonoscopies, are necessary. Due to state-of-the-art therapies, the disease is adequately treatable today, although there is still no actual cure in spite of intensive research.

Crohn’s disease: insufficient knowledge often leads to deferred diagnoses

Due to insufficient knowledge about symptoms and alarm signals it can take months to years from the occurrence of first symptoms to actual diagnosis of crohn’s disease. Some functional disorders of the gastrointestinal tract show similar symptoms. The observation of typical crohn’s disease signals is therefore highly important, for example blood in stool, inflammation signs in blood or stool, fever or joint pain. Crohn’s disease can affect the entire digestive tract, from mouth to anal orifice. According to the figures in ECCO guidelines[1], crohn’s disease leads to surgical intervention in 60 % of all cases at present.


Van Assche G et al. ECCO Guidelines on CD. J Crohns Colitis 2010;4:7-27; ECCO Guidelines on UC /Dignass et al J Crohns Colitis 2012.

Further information

Hosts of these events are ECCO – European Crohn´s and Colitis Organisation: and EFCCA – European Federation of Crohn´s and Ulcerative Colitis Associations:

Up-to-date figures and research results

Up-to-date figures and research results in the area of IBD will be published during the press conference “Join the fight against IBD” on February 13, 2013 in Vienna, followed by a discussion regarding “Crohn’s and Colitis in Europe: The burden of disease in young people“ on February 14, 2013. See:


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