Ulcerative Colitis (UC) Causes and Risk Factors

The causes for ulcerative colitis are not fully known. However, researchers believe the disorder is a complicated process that involves genetic (hereditary) factors, the immune system, and the environment.

There is speculation that ulcerative colitis may be hereditary. Research is ongoing to identify genetic mutations that may contribute to the disorder. Caucasians and people of Jewish or European descent are at increased risk for developing ulcerative colitis.

In another theory, an abnormal immune system response causes an overreaction to bacteria, viruses, parasites, or even foods in the digestive tract. The immune system switches "on," but does not switch "off" as it should. This produces elevated white blood cell activity, increases inflammation, and causes ulcerative colitis.

Environment and lifestyle may also play a part. People in urban areas or industrialized nations have a higher risk, as do those in northern climates. There may also be a link to diets high in fat and refined foods.

Ulcerative colitis is not caused by emotional stress or sensitivity to certain foods. However, stress and spicy foods may worsen symptoms.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 04 Mar 2008

Last Modified: 04 Sep 2015