Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s and Colitis) is Harder to Diagnose in Older Patients

Leora Horn, MSc

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the general term used to describe idiopathic chronic disorders that cause inflammation or ulceration of the gastrointestinal system. Canada is believed to have one of the highest incidences of IBD in the world with an estimated one hundred thousand people suffering from the disease (Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada). The majority of IBD cases are characterized by periods of remission and exacerbation of symptoms often requiring long-term drug therapy, hospitalization, and recurrent surgery. IBD may develop at any age in the geriatric population, but the peak incidence falls between ages 60 and 80. IBD is a chronic disease; people who develop IBD when they are young will carry the disease into old age. Within the elderly population, two-thirds of IBD patients develop the disease in their sixties, a quarter of patients develop IBD in their seventies, and one tenth of patients develop IBD in their eighties.

IBD is classified as either ulcerative colitis (UC) or Crohn's disease. UC is three times more likely than Crohn's disease to occur in the elderly, with twelve percent of UC patients developing the disease when they are over sixty years of age. Approximately four percent of people with Crohn's disease develop symptoms when they are over sixty with incidence among women being higher than among men.1