Background: The treatment of distal ulcerative colitis, refractory to conventional 5-ASA/steroid treatment, is still a matter of debate. The present study aimed at confirming, with adequate statistical power, previous data indicating the usefulness of topical butyrate and 5-ASA in the treatment of this condition.
Design: Double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre study. A total of 51 patients with distal (< 65 cm) ulcerative colitis, refractory to topical 5-ASA/cortisone, were randomly allocated to receive topical 5-ASA 2 g and 80 mM L-1 sodium-butyrate bid (Group A; 24 patients) or 5-ASA 2 g and 80 mL saline bid (Group B; 27 patients) for 6 weeks. Sigmoidoscopy with biopsies, as well as clinical and laboratory evaluations, were carried out at enrollment and at the end of the trial. Primary endpoints: remission or marked improvement in endoscopic, histologic and clinical findings.
Results: Most parameters showed a significant improvement vs. baseline in both groups. Remission in six patients and improvement in 12 patients in Group A vs. one remission and 13 with improvement in Group B (P < 0.05). A significant difference in favour of Group A was recorded regarding the number of bowel movements (P < 0.01), urgency (P < 0.05) and the patients' self evaluation (P < 0.01).
Discussion: The combined treatment with topical butyrate and 5-ASA is significantly more effective than 5-ASA alone in the management of refractory distal colitis. Further improvements in the treatment of refractory distal ulcerative colitis may be feasible based on the identification of patient subgroups and the association of two or more active drugs. Butyrate may well be one of them.