Flying to high altitudes may increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) flares, according to research presented at the 2012 Digestive Disease Week.
Investigators, led by Stephan Vavricka, MD, chief of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at Triemli Hospital in Zurich, studied 103 patients who were seen at several IBD clinics in Switzerland over a period of 1 year. Both groups were asked about their activities during the previous 4 weeks through retrospective questionnaires. Fifty-two recently relapsed IBD patients were matched with 51 IBD patients in remission and the 2 patient groups were controlled for factors such as age, smoking, sports activities, and recent antibiotic treatment. IBD patients with flares reported traveling to heights of at least 2000 meters (6562 feet) during the study period more frequently compared with patients in remission (40.4% versus 15.7%, respectively). When broken down by IBD type, Crohn’s disease patients were found to have a higher risk of flare than ulcerative colitis patients.
Prior evidence has shown that oxygen depletion, or hypoxia, induces elevated levels of circulating proinflammatory cytokines and serum C–reactive protein, but little is known about how this inflammatory response affects IBD. “We need to look more closely at how hypoxia may induce inflammation on a molecular level in the intestines,” Dr. Vavricka said.
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