Efficacy and safety of thiopurinic immunomodulators (azathioprine and mercaptopurine) in steroid-dependent ulcerative colitis

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The efficacy of azathioprine in the management of steroid-dependent ulcerative colitis is taken for granted. However, study populations frequently include together steroid-dependent and refractory patients.


To assess the efficacy and safety of thiopurinic immunomodulators in strictly defined steroid-dependent ulcerative colitis.


Survey of 34 patients with steroid-dependent ulcerative colitis, treated with azathioprine according to protocol. Therapeutical success: glucocorticoid withdrawal within 12 months, without steroid requirements during another year.


Mean age was 39.1 ± 17 years. Pancolitis and extensive colitis accounted for 50% of cases. Therapeutic success of immunomodulator treatment reached 70.6%, intention to treat analysis (confidence interval 95%: 52–84%) and 72.7%, as per protocol (confidence interval 95%: 54–86%). Mean time to steroid withdrawal was 4.6 months. In therapy successes, mean corpuscular volume and total serum bilirubin increased with treatment time (P = 0.0001). Fifteen adverse effects were observed in 13 patients (38%). Azathioprine was withdrawn in seven cases (20.6%); in four of them (with liver toxicity), treatment with mercaptopurine was indicated.


Therapy with thiopurinic immunomodulators (azathioprine) represents the first option in the management of steroid-dependent ulcerative colitis. Its efficacy (70%) and its acceptable safety support this view. Increasing mean corpuscular volume and serum bilirubin values may be a surrogate marker of a beneficial effect.

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