Inflammatory bowel disease: an expanding global health problem

Clin Med Insights Gastroenterol. 2013 Aug 14:6:33-47. doi: 10.4137/CGast.S12731. eCollection 2013.


This review provides a summary of the global epidemiology of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). It is now clear that IBD is increasing worldwide and has become a global emergence disease. IBD, which includes Crohn's disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC), has been considered a problem in industrial-urbanized societies and attributed largely to a Westernized lifestyle and other associated environmental factors. Its incidence and prevalence in developing countries is steadily rising and has been attributed to the rapid modernization and Westernization of the population. There is a need to reconcile the most appropriate treatment for these patient populations from the perspectives of both disease presentation and cost. In the West, biological agents are the fastest-growing segment of the prescription drug market. These agents cost thousands of dollars per patient per year. The healthcare systems, and certainly the patients, in developing countries will struggle to afford such expensive treatments. The need for biological therapy will inevitably increase dramatically, and the pharmaceutical industry, healthcare providers, patient advocate groups, governments and non-governmental organizations should come to a consensus on how to handle this problem. The evidence that IBD is now affecting a much younger population presents an additional concern. Meta-analyses conducted in patients acquiring IBD at a young age also reveals a trend for their increased risk of developing colorectal cancer (CRC), since the cumulative incidence rates of CRC in IBD-patients diagnosed in childhood are higher than those observed in adults. In addition, IBD-associated CRC has a worse prognosis than sporadic CRC, even when the stage at diagnosis is taken into account. This is consistent with additional evidence that IBD negatively impacts CRC survival. A continuing increase in IBD incidence worldwide associated with childhood-onset of IBD coupled with the diseases' longevity and an increase in oncologic transformation suggest a rising disease burden, morbidity, and healthcare costs. IBD and its associated neoplastic transformation appear inevitable, which may significantly impact pediatric gastroenterology and adult CRC care. Due to an infrastructure gap in terms of access to care between developed vs. developing nations and the uneven representation of IBD across socioeconomic strata, a plan is needed in the developing world regarding how to address this emerging problem.

Keywords: Inflammatory bowel disease; colorectal cancer; industrial-urbanized-societies.

Publication types

  • Review