Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), including both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, are disorders of chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract marked by episodes of relapse and remission. Over the past several decades, advances have been made in understanding the epidemiology of IBD. The incidence and prevalence of both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis have been increasing worldwide across pediatric and adult populations. As IBD is thought to be related to a combination of individual genetic susceptibility, environmental triggers, and alterations in the gut microbiome that stimulate an inflammatory response, understanding the potentially modifiable environmental risk factors associated with the development or the course of IBD could impact disease rates or management in the future. Current hypotheses as to the development of IBD are reviewed, as are a host of environmental cofactors that have been investigated as both protective and inciting factors for IBD onset. Such environmental factors include breast feeding, gastrointestinal infections, urban versus rural lifestyle, medication exposures, stress, smoking, and diet. The role of these factors in disease course is also reviewed. Looking forward, there is still much to be learned about the etiology of IBD and how specific environmental exposures intimately impact the development of disease and also the potential for relapse.
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