Inflammatory bowel disease affects about the same number of women and men. Risk factors may include:

  • Age. Inflammatory bowel disease usually begins before the age of 30. But, it can occur at any age, and some people may not develop the disease until their 50s or 60s.
  • Ethnicity. Although whites have the highest risk of the disease, it can occur in any ethnic group. If you're of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, your risk is even higher.
  • Family history. You're at higher risk if you have a close relative, such as a parent, sibling or child, with the disease.
  • Isotretinoin use. Isotretinoin is a medication sometimes used to treat scarring cystic acne or acne that doesn't respond to other treatments. It used to be sold under the brand name Accutane, but that brand has been discontinued, and it's now sold under the brand names Amnesteem, Claravis and Sotret.

    There is conflicting information as to whether isotretinoin use can increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disease. Some studies have suggested a possible link, while other studies have found no such evidence. The question of whether or not there is a link is further complicated by research that suggests a possible connection between the use of tetracycline class antibiotics and the development of IBD. Many people who have been treated with isotretinoin for acne also have received tetracyclines as part of their acne therapy. Studies that have examined the possible link between isotretinoin and IBD have not addressed the question of whether antibiotics used for acne may have played a role in increasing risk.

  • Cigarette smoking. Cigarette smoking is the most important controllable risk factor for developing Crohn's disease. It leads to more-severe symptoms and higher risk of complications. If you smoke, stop. Discuss this with your doctor and get help. There are many smoking cessation programs available if you are unable to quit on your own.
  • Some pain relievers. These medications include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), naproxen (Aleve) and aspirin. These medications have been shown to cause gastrointestinal ulceration and may make existing IBD worse. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) does not have this effect. Discuss the use of any pain medication with your doctor.
  • Where you live. If you live in an urban area or in an industrialized country, you're more likely to develop IBD. Because Crohn's disease occurs more often among people living in cities and industrial nations, it may be that environmental factors, including a diet high in fat or refined foods, play a role in IBD. People living in northern climates also seem to have a greater risk of the disease.
Dec. 13, 2012