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Summary

After the induction of remission, the second priority of therapy for ulcerative colitis is sustained clinical remission, defined as the absence of inflammatory symptoms (diarrhoea, bleeding, rectal urgency) and the maintenance of an intact mucosa, with the absence of ulcers, friability or significant granularity at endoscopy. The ‘optimal’ maintenance strategy will depend on the therapy needed to induce remission. Thus, the transition from induction to maintenance therapy will be determined by the intensity of acute therapy necessary to induce remission and the duration of therapy required to complete the resolution of clinical symptoms. There are few controlled clinical trials pertaining to maintenance after each induction regimen. However, experience dictates that aminosalicylates are efficacious after aminosalicylate-induced remissions, that steroids should be tapered according to the time required to induce remission, that patients requiring ciclosporin will benefit from the addition of long-term immunomodulation with azathioprine or mercaptopurine, and that many patients with distal colitis who require topical mesalazine (mesalamine) will continue to need topical therapy to maintain remission, albeit at reduced frequency. The expectations for maintenance therapy require patient adherence to the prescribed treatment regimen. Patients require education with regard to the long-term goals of maintenance therapy (e.g. prevention of relapse, reduction of long-term complications of disease activity or risks of acute therapy with steroids), and should be warned against the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and cautioned about the cessation of smoking, when applicable, due to potential risks of relapse or chronic activity.