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Ulcerative colitis (UC) of moderate severity is a common presentation in gastroenterological practice and a number of treatment options exist to rapidly and effectively induce remission. This review highlights how novel formulations and dosing regimens can ensure treatment success at a greater convenience for the patient with no increased risk of adverse effects. 5-aminosalicyclic acid (5-ASA) is well tolerated with a low incidence of adverse effects, and has a significant role in the management of UC. Different formulations of oral 5-ASA are now available and allow targeted treatment to inflammatory areas of the small bowel and ascending colon. 5-ASA is often initiated at a low dose for patients with mild to moderately active UC and with increasing doses for those who fail or have a poor response. 5-ASA at high doses is increasingly being used as induction therapy for active UC, particularly in patients with recurrent and/or extensive disease. The recent ASCEND studies show that an induction dose of 5-ASA of 4.8 g daily in patients with moderate UC is significantly more effective and resolves symptoms faster compared with a daily dose of 2.4 g. The evidence provided by the ASCEND studies support the rationale for a ‘top-down’ dosing strategy for UC where more potent therapies are introduced at an earlier stage of moderately severe disease.