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Background

: The role of immunosuppressive therapy in ulcerative colitis remains controversial. There is little information available on how frequently immunosuppressives are used, the circumstances, dose and duration of use and perceived benefit.

Methods

: A postal survey was sent to consultant gastroenterologist members of the British Society of Gastroenterology.

Results

: Questionnaires were returned by 81% of the 496 UK consultants approached. Azathioprine use was frequent, with 93% reporting previous use and 86% use within the past year. Although 95% usually prescribed a ≤ 2 mg/kg dose, only 39% were prepared to prescribe higher doses. There was marked variation in duration of use, with 46% using azathioprine for < 2 years and 17% continuing it for 4 years or longer. Consultants with more experience of azathioprine in ulcerative colitis used it at higher maintenance doses for longer periods, and in patients with less extensive disease. Cyclosporin use was reported by 47% of those caring for ulcerative colitis patients, with 36% having used it at least once in the past year. However, 65% of users estimated that fewer than 50% of patients subsequently avoided colectomy. On stopping cyclosporin only 21% always introduced an alternative immunosuppressive, while 23% never did so. Potentially serious side-effects attributable to azathioprine and cyclosporin were reported by 36% and 45% of users of each drug, respectively.

Conclusions

: This survey reveals considerable variation in the amount and pattern of immunosuppressive use in ulcerative colitis, with serious side-effects commonly seen. There is a pressing need for further randomized controlled trials to provide reliable evidence as to how immunosuppressive therapy should be used in ulcerative colitis.