Media Releases

Childhood physical and sexual abuse linked to ulcerative colitis

August 6, 2015

TORONTO, ON – Adults who were exposed to child­hood phys­i­cal or sex­u­al abuse were approx­i­mate­ly twice as like­ly to have ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis, accord­ing to a new nation­al­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive study from four researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to.

“We found that one-quar­ter of adults with ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis report­ed they had been phys­i­cal­ly abused dur­ing their child­hood, com­pared to one in 10 of those with­out inflam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease,” said the study’s lead author, Pro­fes­sor Esme Fuller-Thom­son, who holds the San­dra Rot­man Endowed Chair at Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work. “Sim­i­lar­ly, the preva­lence of child­hood sex­u­al abuse among those with ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis was one in five ver­sus one in 17 among those with­out the dis­ease.”

Inves­ti­ga­tors exam­ined a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of 21,852 com­mu­ni­ty-dwelling Cana­di­ans aged 18 and over from the 2012 Cana­di­an Com­mu­ni­ty Health Sur­vey – Men­tal Health.

“The odds of ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis were more than two times high­er for those who report­ed that an adult had at least once kicked, bit, punched, choked, burned or phys­i­cal­ly attacked them before the age of 16,” said Joanne Sul­man, study co-author and adjunct lec­tur­er at U of T. This is in com­par­i­son to those who had not been phys­i­cal­ly mis­treat­ed.

“Occur­rences of ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis were also more than twice as high in indi­vid­u­als who report­ed that dur­ing their child­hood an adult had forced them or attempt­ed to force them into any unwant­ed sex­u­al activ­i­ty, by threat­en­ing them, hold­ing them down or hurt­ing them, in com­par­i­son to those who had not been sex­u­al­ly abused,” said Sul­man. “These strong asso­ci­a­tions remained even after we took into account sociode­mo­graph­ic char­ac­ter­is­tics, men­tal health con­di­tions and health behav­iours.”

The study was pub­lished online in the jour­nal Inflam­ma­to­ry Bow­el Dis­eases.

“In con­trast to the strong asso­ci­a­tion between child­hood mal­treat­ment and ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis, we found no asso­ci­a­tion between either type of abuse and Crohn’s dis­ease,” said Keri West, a master’s stu­dent at U of T and study co-author. “This was very sur­pris­ing because Crohn’s dis­ease and ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis are two forms of inflam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease and we expect­ed that sim­i­lar links would be appar­ent for the two dis­or­ders,” We do not know why these dif­fer­ences exist but it’s pos­si­ble that epi­ge­net­ics plays a role.”

Both ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis and Crohn’s dis­ease are debil­i­tat­ing immune-medi­at­ed chron­ic inflam­ma­to­ry dis­or­ders of the gas­troin­testi­nal tract. In North Amer­i­ca, Crohn’s dis­ease affects319 of every 100,000 peo­ple, while ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis affects 249 out of 100,000 peo­ple..

“This research was based on a cross-sec­tion­al sur­vey and there­fore we can­not deter­mine a cause and effect rela­tion­ship, said co-author Stephanie Baird. “How­ev­er, with such a high pro­por­tion of sub­jects with ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis report­ing child­hood mal­treat­ment, future research is clear­ing war­rant­ed.”

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For more infor­ma­tion con­tact:

Michael Kennedy
Media Rela­tions
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to