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The Connection Between IBD and Aging

0 2 years ago

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) has long been thought of as an ailment of middle, or even young, adulthood. The chronic illness—which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, bleeding, and decreased quality of life—impacts about 3.1 million people in the U.S. However, it is far from a disease only of the young and middle-aged. More than a quarter of people with IBD are elderly, a figure that is projected to climb to 30% by 2030, according to a 2021 Gastroenterology & Hepatology article.

Even more underappreciated is the growing population of people who are diagnosed with the disease after they turn 60. Whereas IBD was once taught as a disease with two spikes in onset—20s to 30s, and 40s to 50s—doctors are learning there is a third spike that begins later in life. “Now we know you can be 75 and get IBD,” says Dr. Simon Hong, a gastroenterologist and IBD specialist at NYU Langone Health.

Regardless of when the disease starts, however, understanding—and treating—IBD in older adults comes with its own set of challenges and intricacies.

IBD looks different in older adults

Hundreds of thousands of people whose IBD was diagnosed earlier in their lives are now living with the disease in older age. For many that means living with the damage the disease has done to their intestinal tract, and sometimes with the altering impacts of surgery done to manage it, such as ostomy pouches or increased incontinence. Not to mention continued flare-ups.

It used to be commonly thought that disease activity tapered off in older age, and some people do find their IBD becomes inactive later in life. But that isn’t always the case, says Cleveland Clinic gastroenterologist Dr. Jessica Philpott. “I certainly see some patients who develop more aggressive disease as they advance in age,” she says.


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