Background The composition of the intestinal microflora has been proposed as an important factor in the development of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Antibiotics have the potential to alter the composition of the intestinal microflora. A study was undertaken to evaluate the potential association between use of antibiotics and IBD in childhood.
Methods A nationwide cohort study was conducted of all Danish singleton children born from 1995 to 2003 (N=577 627) with individual-level information on filled antibiotic prescriptions, IBD and potential confounding variables. Using Poisson regression, rate ratios (RRs) of IBD were calculated according to antibiotic use. Antibiotic use was classified according to time since use, type, number of courses used and age at use.
Results IBD was diagnosed in 117 children during 3 173 117 person-years of follow-up. The RR of IBD was 1.84 (95% CI 1.08 to 3.15) for antibiotic users compared with non-users. This association appeared to be an effect on Crohn's disease (CD) alone (RR 3.41) and was strongest in the first 3 months following use (RR 4.43) and among children with ≥7 courses of antibiotics (RR 7.32).
Conclusions Antibiotic use is common in childhood and its potential as an environmental risk factor for IBD warrants scrutiny. This is the first prospective study to show a strong association between antibiotic use and CD in childhood. However, as with any observational study, causality cannot be inferred from our results and confounding by indication—in particular, prescribing of antibiotics to children with intestinal symptoms of as yet undiagnosed CD—should also be considered as a possible explanation.
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Funding This study was supported by a grant from the Danish Medical Research Council, Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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