Objective: Traditionally, contiguous distribution of inflammation (endoscopic and histological) with rectal involvement is thought to be important in distinguishing ulcerative colitis (UC) from Crohn's disease of the colon. Little long-term data are available that prove whether this rule holds during the course of disease as it is modified by time and treatment. The aim of this study was to investigate the prevalence of endoscopic and histological patchiness and rectal sparing in treated UC over time and to correlate these findings with treatment at the time of endoscopy.
Methods: Patients with well-established UC who underwent sequential colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy with biopsies were included in this study. Patients' medical records including endoscopy/biopsy reports and clinical status/symptoms/treatment at the time of endoscopy were reviewed retrospectively.
Results: A total of 32 patients (14 men, 18 women; median age, 45 yr; median UC duration, 15 yr) underwent 175 sequential endoscopies with biopsies (161 colonoscopies, 14 sigmoidoscopies; median, five endoscopies per patient; range, 3-10). Endoscopic and/or histological patchiness was present in 20 of 175 (11%) sequential endoscopies with biopsies over time from 12 of 32 (38%) patients. Endoscopic and/or histological rectal sparing was present in 27 of 175 (15%) of sequential endoscopies with biopsies over time from 14 of 32 (44%) patients. Seven patients had both patchiness and rectal sparing. Therefore, in 47 (27%) follow-up endoscopies in 19 (59%) patients, there was either patchy disease, rectal sparing, or both sometime during the course of disease with treatment. There was no significant difference in treatment, including steroid use and rectal therapy, between those with patchiness and/or rectal sparing and those without.
Conclusions: Contrary to traditional teaching, endoscopic and histological patchiness of inflammation and rectal sparing are common during the course of disease in treated UC and seem to be unrelated to specific therapy.