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Summary

Background : Intravenous ciclosporin is considered to be the only alternative to avoid surgery in severe, steroid-refractory ulcerative colitis. In responders, some authors recommend a switch to oral ciclosporin to act as a ‘bridge’ until the therapeutic action of azathioprine is achieved for maintenance treatment.

Aim : To report the short- and long-term outcome of intravenous ciclosporin-responsive ulcerative colitis patients treated with oral azathioprine without oral ciclosporin.

Methods : The records of all patients treated with intravenous ciclosporin for severe, steroid-refractory ulcerative colitis were reviewed. Responders following treatment with azathioprine but without oral ciclosporin as maintenance therapy were included. Patients with colonic cytomegalovirus infection and/or follow-up of less than 1 year were excluded.

Results : Twenty-seven patients were included. Steroids were discontinued in 24 (89%). The median follow-up was 36 months. Eighteen (75%) patients presented mild or moderate relapses, which were easily managed with salicylates or steroids. Cumulative probabilities of relapse were 42%, 72% and 77% at 1, 3 and 5 years, respectively. Eleven (40.7%) patients underwent elective colectomy. Cumulative probabilities of colectomy were 29%, 35% and 42% at 1, 3 and 5 years, respectively. No opportunistic infections were observed.

Conclusions : Oral azathioprine seems to be enough to maintain long-term remission induced by intravenous ciclosporin in patients with steroid-refractory ulcerative colitis. The ‘bridging step’ with oral ciclosporin may not be necessary in this subset of patients, although a randomized controlled trial is warranted to confirm this hypothesis.