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Hot weather can make inflammatory bowel disease worse

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According to a new study published on Aug. 13, 2013 in The American Journal of Gastroenterology, heat waves may cause inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to flare up.

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An estimated 15,000 people in Connecticut suffer from IBD (based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] estimates of IBD prevalence and U.S. census data). In the U.S. this number rises to 1.4 million.

Inflammatory bowel disease, which includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, involves chronic inflammation of all or part of the digestive tract. IBD can be painful and debilitating, and sometimes leads to life-threatening complications (such as colon cancer, bowel obstruction and ulcers).

It is known that high temperatures can affect human health. In this recent study, the effect of heat waves on IBD was evaluated. The presence of a heat wave was found to increase hospital admissions due to IBD flares by 4.6% each day of the heat wave period.

Heat waves are known to cause physical stress to humans as evident from increased frequencies of other stress-dependent health events such as heart attacks. The authors suggest that the physical and mental stress associated with heat waves could trigger flares of IBD.

In America, IBD has an overall health care cost of more than $1.7 billion. Since heat waves may be increasing in number, the possible impact on health is important. With this in mind, the impact of climate change on health has a relevant economic aspect. "The evidence of patients with IBD having a significant increase risk of flare ups compared to the control group shows a cause and effect between the climate and the disease,” said lead author Christine N. Manser, MD.

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