Is Ulcerative Colitis Genetic?

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation explains that ulcerative colitis is a chronic, inflammatory condition that affects the large intestine. Ulcers form in the inner lining of the large intestine, which includes the colon. These ulcers can produce uncomfortable symptoms, such as abdominal pain, frequent bowel movements, and diarrhea. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, this diarrhea may be bloody. 

Johns Hopkins Medicine also explains that not all symptoms affect just the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Other symptoms include problems affecting the joints, skin, and eyes. In fact, they state that roughly 25% of patients with the disease also have symptoms of arthritis.

There are many potential causes of ulcerative colitis, and researchers are continually working to find answers. According to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation, one theory is that a virus or bacterial infection in the large intestine triggers the immune system, causing inflammation. Typically this inflammation goes away after the body clears the infection. However, the inflammation continues in patients who develop ulcerative colitis, leading to chronic inflammation and ulcers in the large intestine.

Ulcerative colitis risk factors

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, researchers do know that a family history of the disease is the most significant risk factor for developing ulcerative colitis. However, the extent of this risk factor varies depending on the study. The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation states that if an individual has a first-degree relative (i.e., parent, brother, or sister) with the disease, then the individual has a 1.6-30% chance of developing ulcerative colitis. This means that while we understand genetics plays a role in the development of ulcerative colitis, researchers are not yet able to pinpoint precisely how much of a role they play.

While genetics plays a role in the development of ulcerative colitis, there are additional known risk factors. For example, Healthline explains that inflammatory bowel diseases in general affect more people in urban settings and in developed countries. They also list several other possible triggers for the disease, such as a vitamin D deficiency; a diet high in fat, sugar, and meat; and past exposure to certain viruses and bacteria, among other causes.

If you are concerned you may have symptoms of this illness, your healthcare provider can help you determine what next steps you should take.