Environmental factors in a population-based inception cohort of inflammatory bowel disease patients in Europe — An ECCO-EpiCom study☆

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Background and Aims

The incidence of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is increasing in Eastern Europe possibly due to changes in environmental factors towards a more “westernised” standard of living. The aim of this study was to investigate differences in exposure to environmental factors prior to diagnosis in Eastern and Western European IBD patients.


The EpiCom cohort is a population-based, prospective inception cohort of 1560 unselected IBD patients from 31 European countries covering a background population of 10.1 million. At the time of diagnosis patients were asked to complete an 87-item questionnaire concerning environmental factors.


A total of 1182 patients (76%) answered the questionnaire, 444 (38%) had Crohn's disease (CD), 627 (53%) ulcerative colitis (UC), and 111 (9%) IBD unclassified. No geographic differences regarding smoking status, caffeine intake, use of oral contraceptives, or number of first-degree relatives with IBD were found. Sugar intake was higher in CD and UC patients from Eastern Europe than in Western Europe while fibre intake was lower (p < 0.01). Daily consumption of fast food as well as appendectomy before the age of 20 was more frequent in Eastern European than in Western European UC patients (p < 0.01). Eastern European CD and UC patients had received more vaccinations and experienced fewer childhood infections than Western European patients (p < 0.01).


In this European population-based inception cohort of unselected IBD patients, Eastern and Western European patients differed in environmental factors prior to diagnosis. Eastern European patients exhibited higher occurrences of suspected risk factors for IBD included in the Western lifestyle.

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