Published online Jun 14, 2011. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v17.i22.2740
Revised: November 16, 2010
Accepted: November 23, 2010
Published online: June 14, 2011
Smoking is a major environmental factor that interferes in the establishment and clinical course of ulcerative colitis (UC). Firstly, the risk of smoking status impact in the development of UC is reviewed, showing that current smoking has a protective association with UC. Similarly, being a former smoker is associated with an increased risk of UC. The concept that smoking could have a role in determining the inflammatory bowel disease phenotype is also discussed. Gender may also be considered, as current smoking delays disease onset in men but not in women. No clear conclusions can be driven from the studies trying to clarify whether childhood passive smoking or prenatal smoke exposure have an influence on the development of UC, mainly due to methodology flaws. The influence of smoking on disease course is the second aspect analysed. Some studies show a disease course more benign in smokers that in non-smokers, with lower hospitalizations rates, less flare-ups, lower use of oral steroids and even less risk of proximal extension. This is not verified by some other studies. Similarly, the rate of colectomy does not seem to be determined by the smoking status of the patient. The third issue reviewed is the use of nicotine as a therapeutic agent. The place of nicotine in the treatment of UC is unclear, although it could be useful in selected cases, particularly in recent ex-smokers with moderate but refractory attacks of UC. Finally, the effect of smoking cessation in UC patients is summarised. Given that smoking represents a major worldwide cause of death, for inpatients with UC the risks of smoking far outweigh any possible benefit. Thus, physicians should advise, encourage and assist UC patients who smoke to quit.