The causes of Ulcerative Colitis are not yet fully understood and there may be a number of factors at play in those who develop the condition. Research carried out to date has identified several possibilities which may have caused the condition but this research remains ongoing.
One of the possible causes of Ulcerative Colitis identified by researchers is a problem with the immune system. The immune system is the body’s natural defences against infection. In the event of an infection the body releases white blood cells to destroy the cause. During the process the body tissues in area of infection become swollen and red. This inflammation is a natural part of the recovery, but if there is a problem with the immune system it may attack healthy tissue. This is called an auto immune condition.
In the colon there is normally what is known as friendly bacteria, which aids food digestion. One theory is that in Ulcerative Colitis, the immune system mistakes the friendly bacteria for hostile bacteria and attacks it as an infection, causing the inflammation in the colon. Another theory is that the condition may be triggered by a genuine infection but that the immune system fails to ‘turn off’ afterwards, leading to continued inflammation. It is also possible there is no reason for the immune system to malfunction.
It has also been noticed that the condition seems to run in families, with one in four sufferers having a family history of the condition. This suggests there may be a genetic cause of Ulcerative Colitis. This theory is backed up bit the fact that the condition is more prevalent in certain ethnic groups. Several genes have been identified which seem to make an individual more likely to develop the condition. It is likely that several of these genes also play a role in the body’s immune system.
Another area of research for the causes of Ulcerative Colitis, are environmental factors. As yet no conclusive results have been found, but it is notable that the condition is more common in developed nations and urban areas, such as in the northern part of Western Europe and the USA. Research remains ongoing into whether medication, pollution or the typical diets of these regions may play a part. These are areas which also have better sanitation conditions, meaning that it may be the lack of exposure to harmful bacteria in these regions which trigger the condition.
It seems very likely there is no single cause for Ulcerative Colitis, but instead it is a combination of factors. It is thought that particular foods and stress do not cause Ulcerative Colitis, but they may be a cause of flare ups of symptoms in an individual who already has the condition. These will vary between individuals and become a part of managing the condition.
With research ongoing, it is likely that doctors and scientists will discover more about the causes of the condition and as they learn more, improved treatments and preventative measures can be developed.