What to know about smoking and ulcerative colitis
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an autoimmune condition. This means that a fault in the immune system is the cause. It is one of the main types of inflammatory bowel disease, along with Crohn's disease.
Crohn's disease and UC are similar, but they cause inflammation in different parts of the gut.
Doctors usually refer to UC as a relapsing-remitting condition. This means that the symptoms may come and go over time.
There is some evidence to suggest that nicotine can keep UC in the remitting stage. However, it is important to note that the health risks of smoking greatly outweigh the benefits.
Does it work?
Nicotine patches or gum may help with UC.
Researchers have found that smoking can reduce the impact of some UC symptoms.
The results of a 10-year study from 1998 suggest that people who both smoke and have UC are less likely than people who do not smoke to require steroids to treat a relapse. They were also less likely to require surgery or develop serious complications.
Scientists are not why sure smoking has an impact on UC, but it is possible that there is a connection to the effect it has on the immune system.
Other research suggests that smoking could help prevent UC from developing in the first place.
It is important to note, however, that the risks of smoking are serious and numerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it "harms nearly every organ" in the body.
It is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, claiming more lives than HIV, illegal drug and alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, and firearm-related incidents combined.
Smoking is responsible for about 9 out of 10 lung cancer deaths and 8 out of 10 deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke by two to four times. For males, it increases the risk of developing lung cancer by 25 times. For females, the risk is slightly higher.
Lung cancer is the condition that most people associate with smoking. However, smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body.
In some rare cases, doctors may consider nicotine replacement products.
These include nicotine patches or nicotine gum. They appear to work best for people with mild or moderate UC.
It is important to note the possible side effects of nicotine patches, which include:
A person can track what triggers their symptoms by keeping a food diary.
While there is no cure for UC, there are several treatments available. A person should speak to their healthcare provider about which, if any, would be the best for their condition.
The following are some of the treatments available:
- Aminosalicylates (5-ASAs): These are anti-inflammatories for treating mild to moderate UC.
- Corticosteroids: These work by reducing the activity of the immune system that causes the inflammation. Doctors tend to recommend these when a person is experiencing a relapse of their symptoms.
- Immunomodulators: These are medicines that people take long-term. They are usually the recommendation if someone does not get any better while taking 5-ASAs.
- Biologics: These are also medicines that people take long-term. Those who take this class of drug are typically those whose condition does not respond to any other medications.
Doctors also advise people to think about what they eat and drink. Although poor nutrition does not cause UC, it can have an impact on the symptoms.
Some foods or drinks might be triggers, meaning that consuming them could cause the symptoms to worsen. Everyone's triggers are different. Keeping a food diary will help people keep track of what triggers their symptoms.
Some research has suggested that smoking can help prevent UC from developing in the first place. It may also lead to less severe symptoms.
However, the risks of smoking include cancer, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. These fatal risks far outweigh the potential benefits for people living with UC.
A person should speak to their healthcare team about treatments that help keep their UC symptoms under control.