Etiology and pathophysiology of inflammatory bowel disease--environmental factors

Hepatogastroenterology. Jan-Feb 2000;47(31):29-43.


Environmental factors play an important role in the pathophysiology of inflammatory bowel disease. There is a strong and consistent association between smoking and Crohn's disease, and between nonsmoking and ulcerative colitis. Despite extensive research, the exact pathophysiological mechanisms for these associations remain unclear. In spite of this, some clinical trials with nicotine-patches showed beneficial effects for the treatment of ulcerative colitis. Associations of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis with other environmental factors are weaker like the association with use of oral contraceptives or those less well investigated such as the association with childhood hygiene. Most studies suggesting a potential pathogenetic role of Mycobacterium paratuberculosis or an effect of tuberculostatic therapy in Crohn's disease could not be reproduced by others. Perinatal or childhood infections by viruses like measles are heavily debated, but not proven to be causal for inflammatory bowel disease. Coagulation disorders have been described as protecting from inflammatory bowel disease, suggesting hypercoagulability to be a pathogenetic factor. Some studies described that appendectomy may prevent the onset of ulcerative colitis in man and mice. Other environmental factors such as hydrogen sulfide, tonsillectomy, diet, blood transfusions, and Listeria also require confirmation. There are, however, convincing data from genetic animal models and twin studies that environmental factors as the intestinal bacterial flora interact with susceptible hosts to cause inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammatory bowel diseases have multifactorial etiologies, which require a differentiated approach for treatment and prevention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / etiology*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / microbiology
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Risk Factors