Family History is Biggest Risk for Crohn’s and Colitis

Talking about irritable bowel disease (IBD ) isn’t easy, especially at a family gathering. There’s no better setting in which to have this conversation though, because IBD runs in families. If your family has a medical history of IBD, make it a point to discuss facts about the disease and explain the importance of treatment.

Here are some answers to questions your family members may ask:

What are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis?

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two most common types of irritable bowel disease, a group of conditions that cause inflammation in the digestive tract. Crohn’s disease can form anywhere along the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus. However, ulcerative colitis only affects the colon and the rectum.

How do my genes affect my risk of IBD?

Family history of inflammatory bowel disease is the most influential risk factor for developing IBD. About 12 percent  of people with Crohn’s disease and about 9 percent of people with ulcerative colitis have a confirmed family history.

Can I calculate my own risk for IBD?

Your risk for IBD depends on which family member is affected. Having a first-degree relative (a mother, father, brother, sister or child) with IBD increases your risk more than having a second-degree relative (uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, grandparent, grandchild or half-sibling) with the disease. If your mother and your father have IBD, you have a one in three chance of being affected. Your risk for IBD is highest if you have three or more relatives who are affected.

Make an Appointment with a Gastroenterologist

Remind your family that anyone can develop IBD, even if they don’t have a family history of the disease. Both conditions can share symptoms of abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, weight loss and urgency to move bowels. Encourage your family members to call a gastroenterologist if they have any of these ongoing symptoms or experience changes in bathroom habits. IBD can also increase the risk of colon cancer, so certain family members may need to get a colonoscopy  at a younger age. 

By opening up a conversation about family history and IBD, you can contribute to making this season a happy and healthy one for your loved ones.