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Topical agents for idiopathic distal colitis and proctitis


  • Ian Craig Lawrance

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Department of Gastroenterology, Fremantle Hospital, Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia
    2. University Department of Medicine and Pharmacology, University of Western Australia, Fremantle Hospital, Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia
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  • Author contributions: Lawrance IC solely contributed to this paper.

Professor Ian Craig Lawrance, The School of Medicine and Pharmacology, University of Western Australia, Level 5 T Block, Fremantle Hospital, Alma Street, Fremantle, 6059, WA, Australia. Email:


Rectally administered topical agents have demonstrated efficacy in the maintenance of distal colitis (DC) and proctitis and as they are rarely associated with significant blood drug levels, side effects are infrequent. The topical 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) suppositories and enemas target different regions of the distal colon and are effective for proctitis and DC, respectively. They demonstrate clinical results that are better than oral 5-ASAs and are preferred to topical steroids with better clinical, endoscopic and histological outcomes, without the risk of adrenal suppression. Disease resistant to topical agents, however, can be extremely difficult to manage. The addition of oral 5ASAs, steroids, immunosuppressants and the anti-tumor necrosis factor-α agents may be effective, but can result in significant side effects and not all patients will respond to the therapies. It is for these patients that new and novel therapies are required. Novel topical agents have been proposed for the management of resistant DC. These agents included butyrate, cyclosporine, and nicotine enemas, as well as tacrolimus suppositories, and tacrolimus, ecabet sodium, arsenic, lidocaine, bismuth, rebamipide and thromboxane enemas. While some of these agents appear to demonstrate impressive outcomes, the majority have only been examined in small open-labeled studies. There is thus a desperate need for more randomized double-blinded placebo controlled studies to investigate the clinical utility of these topical therapies. This review summarizes the efficacy of the established topical therapies, and explores the available data on the new and novel topical agents for the management of DC and proctitis.