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Background:

Distal ulcerative colitis may prove to be resistant to steroids and aminosalicylates, but total colectomy is more difficult to justify than in severe extensive colitis. Immunosuppression is of established benefit in generalized colitis, but there are no data available specific to distal disease.

Aim:

To determine whether the protocol-driven use of immunosuppressants in resistant distal ulcerative colitis is of similar efficacy and safety to that in extensive disease.

Methods:

Two hundred and twenty-eight patients with distal ulcerative colitis seen in a 5-year period were identified from a prospective database. Details of 52 who had received immunosuppression were analysed.

Results:

The 52 patients received 68 courses of therapy (53 azathioprine, five mercaptopurine, 10 ciclosporin). The thiopurines yielded clinically valuable responses in only 43% of courses, with failure of response in 16% and toxicity in 34%. Ciclosporin was helpful on only two of 10 occasions. Eight patients required total colectomy. Adverse events were typical of those normally associated with immunosuppressants, with potential risk to life in seven patients; treatment was discontinued because of toxicity on a total of 31% of occasions.

Conclusions:

Immunosuppression appears to be of lower efficacy and higher toxicity in resistant distal colitis than when used in more extensive colitis.