From the AGA Journals

Rising IBD rates in minorities heighten need for awareness, strategies to close treatment gaps



Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is rapidly increasing among racial and ethnic minorities, which makes it important to consider for patients with compatible symptoms, experts wrote in Gastroenterology.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are “chronic diseases with intermittent periods of flare and remission, so access to specialists, appropriate therapies, and frequent follow-up visits are vital to good outcomes,” wrote Edward L. Barnes, MD, MPH, of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with his associates. However, Blacks with IBD tend to be diagnosed later than Whites, are less likely to receive recommended biologics and immunomodulators, and are more likely to receive care at an emergency department, to experience delays in colectomy, and to miss regular visits to IBD specialists because of financial and transportation barriers, they added.

These disparities are known to worsen outcomes. Compared with Whites, for example, Black patients with Crohn’s disease have higher rates of stricture and penetrating lesions and are at greater risk for postsurgical complications and death, even after potential confounders such age, sex, smoking status, time to operation, and obesity are controlled for. To help close these gaps, Dr. Barnes and his associates recommended enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS) protocols, which “streamline [the] multidisciplinary management of patients with IBD before surgery, incorporating evidence-based practices focused on nutrition, prevention of postoperative ileus, and use of nonopioid analgesia and goal-directed fluid therapy.”

Similar approaches also might improve nonsurgical outcomes in minorities with IBD, the experts said. In the Sinai-Helmsley Alliance for Research Excellence (SHARE) study, Black patients had more complicated IBD at baseline but similar clinical outcomes and patterns of medication use as Whites when they were treated at academic IBD centers. In other studies, race and ethnicity did not affect patterns of medication use, surgery, or surgical outcomes if patients had similar access to care. Such findings “indicate that when patients of minority races and ethnicities have access to appropriate specialty care and IBD-related therapy, many previously identified disparities are resolved or reduced,” the experts said.

However, race and ethnicity do affect some aspects of IBD disease activity, genetics, and treatment safety and efficacy. Since White patients have made up the vast majority of research participants, studies of racial and ethnic minorities are needed to improve their IBD diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. Such research is particularly vital because IBD incidence is rising three times faster rates in racial and ethnic minorities than Whites, said Aline Charabaty, MD, AGAF, clinical director of the gastroenterology division at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and director of the IBD Center at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington.

She explained that, when immigrants from countries where IBD is rare adopt the United States’ sedentary lifestyle and Western diet (low in fruits and vegetables; high in proinflammatory saturated fats, sugars, and processed foods), their gut microbiome shifts and their IBD risk increases markedly. Studies in other countries have produced similar findings, said Dr. Charabaty, who did not help author the review article.

She also noted that patients from communities with a historically low prevalence of IBD may not understand its chronicity or the need for long-term treatment. However, treatment adherence is a common issue for patients of all backgrounds with IBD, she said. “What is unique is barriers to continuity of care – not being able to get to the treatment center, not being able to afford treatment or take time off work if you live paycheck to paycheck, not being able to pay someone to care for your kids while you see the doctor.”

Other potential barriers to seeking IBD treatment include cultural taboos against discussing lower GI symptoms or concerns that chronic disease will harm marriage prospects, Dr. Charabaty said. Such challenges only heighten the need to ascertain IBD symptoms: “Studies show that minorities have less follow-up care and their symptoms tend to be minimized. There is a lot of unconscious bias among providers that factors into this. The barriers are multiple, and it is important to define them and find strategies to overcome them at the level of the patient, the clinician, and the health system.”

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation supported the work. Dr. Barnes disclosed ties to AbbVie, Gilead, Takeda, and Target Pharmasolutions. Two coauthors also disclosed relevant ties to pharmaceutical companies. Dr. Charabaty disclosed relationships with AbbVie, Takeda, Pfizer, Janssen, and UCB.

AGA applauds researchers who are working to raise our awareness of health disparities in digestive diseases. AGA is committed to addressing this important societal issue head on. Learn more about AGA’s commitment through the AGA Equity Project.

SOURCE: Barnes EL et al. Gastroenterology. 2020 Oct 20. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2020.08.064.

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