Antibiotics nearly double risk of developing IBD, doctors warn

Doctor: “This affirms what many of us have suspected: that antibiotics, which adversely affect gut microbial communities, are a risk factor for IBD.”

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Antibiotics may have revolutionized healthcare in the 20th century, but according to a new study they also spell trouble for many people’s stomachs. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden conclude that the use of antibiotics is associated with an increased risk of developing new-onset inflammatory bowel disease.

In particular, antibiotics with a more diverse assortment of microbial coverage are most associated with elevated IBD risk. The disease has two primary subtypes: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

IBD cases have been rising in recent years in the United States, Europe, and many other areas that are experiencing more frequent use of antibiotics. The similar time frame between the recent rise of global IBD cases and the widespread adoption of antibiotics are behind concerns that antibiotics may be interfering with users’ ever-important gut microbiomes. This, consequently, raises one’s risk of developing IBD.

Now, the largest ever study focusing on antibiotics and risk of IBD has indeed confirmed there is a connection between frequent antibiotic use and the development of the condition.

“I think this affirms what many of us have suspected–that antibiotics, which adversely affect gut microbial communities, are a risk factor for IBD,” says lead study author, Dr. Long Nguyen at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in a release. “However, despite this compelling rationale and seemingly intuitive presumption, there have been no population-scale investigations to support this hypothesis until now.”

‘More reason to avoid antibiotics needlessly’

To start, the research team identified 24,000 new IBD cases (16,000 cases of ulcerative colitis and 8,000 instances of Crohn’s disease). Then, they compared those individuals with 28,000 of their siblings and 117,000 control participants taken randomly from the general population.

After adjusting for potentially influential factors, the study’s authors conclude that taking antibiotics just once is associated with a nearly-two times greater risk of suffering from IBD.

IBD may not sound like the most serious ailment in the world at first, but it can have an incredibly adverse impact on a person’s day-to-day life. Additionally, it’s been linked to an increased risk of both cancer and death.

“To identify risk factors for IBD is important, and ultimately our aim is to prevent the disease,” professor Ludvigsson concludes. “Our study provides another piece of the puzzle and even more reason to avoid using antibiotics needlessly.”

The study is published in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

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