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  • Colitis

    What Causes Ulcerative Colitis

    The causes of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are unknown. To date, there has been no convincing evidence that these two diseases are caused by infection. Neither disease is contagious.

    Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are caused by abnormal activation of the immune system in the intestines. The immune system is composed of immune cells and the proteins that these cells produce. These cells and proteins serve to defend the body against harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other foreign invaders. Activation of the immune system causes inflammation within the tissues where the activation occurs. (Inflammation is, in fact, an important mechanism of defense used by the immune system.) Normally, the immune system is activated only when the body is exposed to harmful invaders.

    In patients with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, however, the immune system is abnormally and chronically activated in the absence of any known invader. The continued abnormal activation of the immune systems causes chronic inflammation and ulceration. The susceptibility to abnormal activation of the immune system is genetically inherited. First degree relatives (brothers, sisters, children, and parents) of patients with IBD are thus more likely to develop these diseases.



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