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Women on contraceptive pills 3x likelier to get Crohn’s disease

The research involved 230,000 American women who were enrolled in the U.S. Nurses Health Studies I and II from 1976 to 2008. It was led by Harvard University gastroenterologist Dr. Hamed Khalili, who compared the gastrointestinal health of women who have used the pill for long periods with women who have never used birth control pills, says Medical Daily.

The study showed a major increase in Crohn’s disease since the 1960’s when the contraceptive pill was first used. While suggesting a link between the two, the research also clearly identified a danger for those taking the Pill, who had a family history of the disease.

Crohn’s disease is a serious and incurable illness characterized as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), in which an abnormal immune system response causes chronic inflammation in the digestive tract.

An article in the Mail Online explains that,

“Crohn’s involves the painful inflammation of the digestive system, most commonly the intestines. This makes digesting food difficult, resulting in diarrhoea, fatigue and anaemia. Flare-ups can be so bad that working is impossible, leading to lengthy periods off work.”

It can also lead to severe depression and sometimes suicide.

The study indicates that increased use of the Pill over the last 50 years is linked to a two to three fold increase in Crohn’s disease. And more recently Healthline reports that between 1992 and 2004 in the US, there was a 74 percent increase in doctor’s office visits due to the illness.

The researchers suspect that sex hormones in contraceptive pills could be weakening the gut and creating ideal conditions for Crohn’s to develop. The Mail said the study believed “it made the gut lining more permeable, reduced levels of ‘friendly’ bacteria in the intestines and affected the immune system.”

Furthermore, they believe those who take the “morning-after pill” have a far greater chance of developing the disease, because the amount of sex hormones in these pills is much higher.

Those who are at most risk are women with a family history of Crohn’s disease. They appear to be genetically predisposed to catching it, the study said. Those women who have taken the Pill for more than five years are 3 times more likely to develop the disease than those who hadn’t, warned Dr Khalili.

He stressed that women with a family history of Crohn’s, should avoid taking the Pill. He said that the Pill on its own wasn’t causing Crohn’s disease, but that the Pill together with a genetic predisposition was the most dangerous combination.

Unfortunately, diagnosing the illness is not straight forward, even for the medical community, because Crohn’s disease mimics many symptoms of other ailments.

Everyday Health says recognizing Crohn’s can be complicated.

“The most common Crohn’s symptoms — abdominal pain and diarrhea — are also common symptoms of other gastrointestinal conditions, including ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).”

Crohn’s disease causes inflammation in the digestive tract anywhere from the mouth to the anus, but the most common areas affected are the small intestine and colon. Constant medication and sometimes surgery is needed to alleviate its symptoms.

Everyday Health lists the main symptoms as;

“Crampy abdominal pain, usually located in the lower right side of the abdomen
Loose, watery, frequent, and sometimes bloody bowel movements
Loss of appetite, fatigue, fever, and weight loss
Arthritis, skin problems, and anemia
Delayed growth and sexual development in children
Ulcers in the mouth and tears in the lining of the anus.”

Some 1.4 million Americans and 115,000 Britons suffer from Crohn’s disease.

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