Over-40s who take antibiotics nearly 50pc more likely to develop irritable bowel disease

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Over-40s who take antibiotics are nearly 50 per cent more likely to develop Crohn’s or colitis, a study has found.

Irritable bowel disease (IBD) includes both the chronic inflammatory conditions which affect different parts of the gut, with more than half a million sufferers in the UK.

Data from more than six million people in Denmark followed for more than a decade found that taking antibiotics was linked to an increase in an individual’s risk of IBD.

The effect was seen for all age groups but was most pronounced in over-40s.

If a person between the age of 40 and 60 has taken antibiotics in the last five years they are 48 per cent more at risk of IBDs, data show. For over-60s, the figure is 47 per cent.

But the scientists also found the effect to be cumulative. A 40-year-old who has had one course of antibiotics has an increased risk of Crohn’s or colitis of 27 per cent, for example, but this increases by around 15 per cent for every subsequent dose.

The researchers from New York University and Aalborg University in Denmark found that a 40-year-old who has been prescribed antibiotics five or more times is more than twice as likely to get IBD than someone who has never been on them.

Diagnosis most likely one or two years after taking antibiotics

Nine out of ten people in the study were prescribed antibiotics at some point and the team recorded more than 36,000 cases of colitis and almost 17,000 new cases of Crohn’s.

The team also found that a person was most likely to be diagnosed with IBD between one and two years after being prescribed antibiotics, and that tablets for bacterial gut infections were the most likely to precede an IBD diagnosis.

“In our study, we see antibiotic use was associated with a higher risk of developing IBD among older adults as compared with younger individuals,” the study authors write in their paper, published in the journal Gut.

“We also observed an increased risk for developing IBD 4–5 years after exposure.

“This may be the result of persisting changes in the microbial environment as a result of antibiotic use, which ultimately contribute to the development of IBD.”

Recent research by The University of Nottingham and Crohn’s and Colitis UK found that 0.81 per cent of Britons, or an estimated 540,000 patients, have Crohn’s or Colitis.

However, the prevalence increases with age. One in every 100 people aged 40-49 have a form of IBD, rising to 1.34 per cent for people between 60 and 69 years of age.

Increased risk ‘could be related to changes in gut flora’

Dr Laila Tata, the co-author of that study which is yet to be published, told The Telegraph the rate of diagnosis in the UK is still increasing and that increased risk of IBD after antibiotics “could be related to changes in gut flora”.

“Crohn’s disease tends to peak when people are in their early to mid-20s and then it decreases slightly before levelling off,” she said.

“Ulcerative colitis increases a bit later in late-20s, early-30s and is diagnosed a bit more in later life.”

IBD is partly controlled by genetics but lifestyle and environmental factors such as diet and smoking can also alter a person’s individual risk.

“There’s definitely differences in genetic susceptibility. It’s been found to be diagnosed increasingly in line with urbanisation and Westernisation which indicates these factors are slightly increasing the diagnosis rate,” Dr Tata added.

“However, there are also a lot of people who aren’t yet diagnosed who have the condition who may be living with it without having it diagnosed.”

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