Study Finds Link Between Antibiotic Use and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

The more courses of antibiotics patients took, the higher their risk of being diagnosed with irritable bowel diseases.

Side effects of antibiotics may increase an elderly individual’s risk of suffering from inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease, according to the findings of a new study.

The more courses of antibiotics a senior citizen takes, the greater the risk they will have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or Crohn’s disease, with findings of new research suggesting that three courses may increase the risk by nearly 70%.

Researchers from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City analyzed prescribing records for 2.3 million adults over the age of 60 in Denmark who were newly diagnosed with IBD from 2000 to 2018.

The data indicates a clear link between antibiotic use and higher rates of IBD, researchers said. The more courses of antibiotics a person took, the higher their risk of IBD.

IBD is a group of intestinal disorders stemming from inflammation in the digestive tract. It includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Symptoms include abdominal cramping, pain, diarrhea, fever, bloating, gas and unexplained weight loss.

The new study found one course of antibiotics was linked to a 27% increased risk of suffering from new IBD, compared to no antibiotic use in the past five years. Two courses increased the risk by 55%. Taking three courses in the past five years raised the risk by 67%, four courses increased the risk by 96%, and taking five or more courses increased the risk by an astounding 236%.

Patients who had taken antibiotics in the past one or two years had the highest rates of new Crohn’s and IBD diagnoses, but the risk stayed high for those taking antibiotics within the past five years.

Younger patients who have Crohn’s disease often have a strong family history of the ailment, but older patients who get Crohn’s are often triggered by environmental factors. This new study shows antibiotics could be one of those triggers.

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The study may help explain the increase in incidence of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis among older adults, both are types of inflammatory bowel disease. Researchers said doctors should consider IBD among older patients with new gastrointestinal symptoms, especially if they have a history of antibiotic use.

The findings also present another reason for doctors to focus on cautious antibiotic use. Fewer courses of antibiotics may not only prevent cases of IBD, but can also help prevent the proliferation of antibiotic resistance bacteria.

The findings of the study are scheduled to be presented May 22, at the Digestive Disease Week meeting in San Diego. Results presented at medical conferences are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

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