Spurred by this post, a reader shares a curious connection:
In 2000, I quit my pack-and-a-half-a-day habit. In 2004, I was knocked to my knees by a sudden onset of ulcerative colitis, a particularly sanguinary bowel condition that, at its peak, involved up to 20 trips to the bathroom a day and the occasional change of underwear. The very expensive medication I was given seemed to be doing the trick and the tumult in my gut stabilized to normalcy. I also started smoking again.
Last year I decided to quit smoking again, as a gift to myself and to my girlfriend. Within a month – and after 8 years of remission – the colitis returned, as bloody and disruptive as ever. I went to see a gastroenterologist and, during the course of the appointment, off-handedly remarked that I had quit smoking. He looked at me and said, “Oh. That’s why your colitis is back.”
We tried medication, gradually escalating it with my UC only getting worse, until it was time to start using steroids. I did not want to do this. I had visions of the swollen Jerry Lewis from when he was on steroid treatment. And there was no guarantee that it would work.
I tried using nicotine patches. No effect. Finally, with my quality of life having deteriorated substantially (imagine being seized with emergency-level bloody diarrhea at least once an hour), about a year ago I gave in and bought a pack of cigarettes. Within a week the colitis was gone.
I now wear a nicotine patch to help keep the number of cigarettes I smoke daily down to about 10. My doctor never encouraged me to smoke again, but he didn’t give me any grief about it, either. To my knowledge, the medical community has not figured out why smoking puts UC into remission, nor why quitting smoking so often causes UC. But there it is. I smoke for my health.