Ulcerative Colitis Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

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Ulcerative colitis is one type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation in the large intestine (the colon and the rectum). It can also cause complications in various parts of the body, including the skin, joints, eyes, and other body systems.

It’s estimated that as of 2016, 451,776 adults in the United States live with ulcerative colitis. Between 2007 and 2016, the prevalence of ulcerative colitis increased by about 125%.

This article will highlight facts and statistics about ulcerative colitis in people living in the United States.

Person feeling abdominal pain from ulcerative colitis

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Ulcerative Colitis Overview

Ulcerative colitis is an immune-mediated condition that affects the large intestine and the rectum. It causes inflammation, leading to ulcers (sores) forming on the colon's lining. The ulcers can lead to symptoms of blood in the stool, pain, urgency, and diarrhea.

How Common is Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis, and IBD in general, is considered a common disease. Most people in the United States are diagnosed with the condition in their 20s or 30s. Ulcerative colitis is estimated to affect about 1 in 552 adults.

The prevalence of ulcerative colitis is increasing, both in the United States and in the rest of the world. The increase in diagnoses of ulcerative colitis between 2007 and 2016 in the United States was estimated to be 125%.

Rare vs. Common

There is no universally accepted number for defining a "rare" disease as opposed to a "common" one. However, the definition used most often is from the Orphan Drug Act, which defines diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people in the United States as "rare." IBD and ulcerative colitis affect enough people that they are considered common diseases.

Ulcerative Colitis by Ethnicity

Ulcerative colitis can affect anyone of any ethnicity. It was once thought to be a disease that primarily affected White populations. It tends to be less common in other ethnicities, but it can affect anyone of any background or age, and is becoming more prevalent over time.

There is a lack of information about how ulcerative colitis affects people across ethnic groups. However, one study of IBD in people who were in the United States military health system showed the rate of ulcerative colitis per 100,000 people of various ethnicities was:

  • White: 194
  • Black: 150
  • Asian: 100
  • Hispanic: 100
  • American Indian: 115
  • Other: 196

Ulcerative Colitis by Age and Gender

Ulcerative colitis occurs roughly equally in people of any sex. Some studies have shown slightly more males develop ulcerative colitis than females. However, the military health system study showed ulcerative colitis was slightly more common in females than in males.

Most people are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s, but ulcerative colitis can be diagnosed at any age, including in children and older adults. Overall, IBD in children tends to be more common in male children than in female children.

There is another peak in the diagnosis rates of ulcerative colitis in people over age 60. The median age of diagnosis of ulcerative colitis was shown to be 34.9 in one study.

The prevalence of ulcerative colitis increases with each decade of life. This means that ulcerative colitis is more common in people over age 50. Per 100,000 people, the prevalence of ulcerative colitis is estimated as:

  • 0–10 years: 11
  • 11–19 years: 53
  • 20s: 259
  • 30s: 201
  • 40s: 254
  • 50s: 281
  • 60s: 353
  • 70s: 432
  • 80 and over: 348

Causes of IBD and Risk Factors

The causes of ulcerative colitis are not well understood. However, there are some theories. In general, it’s thought that ulcerative colitis is caused by several factors working together. First, there is a genetic predisposition. Many genes that could play a role have been identified.

Second, there is thought to be a complex interplay between an immune system reaction, a gut microbiome imbalance (the helpful microbes normally present in the gut), and one or more environmental factors that “turns on” the condition. 

Most people with ulcerative colitis do not have a family member with the disease. However, it does tend to run in families. For a pregnant person with ulcerative colitis, the risk of a child born to them also developing the disease is about 1.6%.

What Are the Mortality Rates for Ulcerative Colitis?

The various forms of IBD, including ulcerative colitis, are not usually considered to be fatal.

However, the life span of a person with ulcerative colitis or another form of IBD may be slightly shorter than for those who don’t live with one of these diseases. This is believed to result from the ongoing inflammation, which puts people at risk for heart disease, cancer, and other conditions.

Trend

Life expectancy in people with IBD has increased slightly in recent years, which may be a result of improved diagnosis and treatment.

Screening and Early Detection of IBD

The diagnostic process of ulcerative colitis or other forms of IBD tends to be long. Symptoms might be subtle or similar to those of other diseases, which could lead to a misdiagnosis. 

People are not routinely screened for ulcerative colitis. Most people don’t have a family history of the disease, so looking for a diagnosis doesn’t take place until symptoms become troublesome enough.

A colonoscopy is usually how ulcerative colitis is diagnosed. In this procedure, a flexible scope with a camera is inserted through the rectum to check the colon.

People who think they may have ulcerative colitis or a form of IBD will want to seek care from a healthcare provider and look into getting a referral to a gastroenterologist (a digestive disease specialist).

Summary

Ulcerative colitis is a common condition that affects people of all sexes, ages, and ethnicities. It is, unfortunately, becoming more common inside and outside the United States. Management of the disease and its complications is improving, which has translated to a slight increase in life expectancy. 

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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