Background: Severe ulcerative colitis is a potentially life-threatening condition. Due to advances in medical therapy, the mortality rate has dropped to <2% over the past 30 years, but the colectomy rate reaches 30%. Recently, infliximab has been shown to be effective as rescue therapy but little is known about long-term benefits.
Aim: To evaluate short-and long-term colectomy rates for severe ulcerative colitis in the era of biological treatment and to identify predictive factors of long-term colectomy.
Patients and methods: From 2001 to 2006 all in-patients with severe ulcerative colitis, according to Truelove and Witts criteria, were retrospectively reviewed. All patients had received intravenous steroid treatment; infliximab (5 mg/kg at 0, 2 and 6 weeks) was used as rescue therapy in steroid-refractory patients; colectomy was performed in patients who deteriorated whilst on steroid treatment or failed to respond to infliximab.
Results: Of the 314 ulcerative colitis patients hospitalized during the study period, 52 (16.5%) met the criteria of severe ulcerative colitis. After median 7 days (range 4-15) on intravenous steroids, 37/52 (71%) patients showed a clinical response, while 15/52 (29%) were steroid-refractory. Of these, four underwent urgent colectomy and 11 received infliximab. A clinical response was observed in all infliximab-treated patients. In the long-term, another six patients underwent elective colectomy. The overall colectomy rate, following the acute attack, was 19%; the cumulative probability of a course without colectomy was 90%, 86%, 84%, 81%, after 6, 12, 18 and 24 months, respectively. No deaths occurred. The long-term colectomy risk was comparable in patients treated with infliximab and in steroid-responsive patients (18% vs. 11% respectively; OR 1.9; 95% CI 0.26-14.5). No predictive factors of colectomy, in the long-term, were identified.
Conclusions: Surgery continues to play an important role in acute severe ulcerative colitis. Infliximab can avoid urgent colectomy in steroid-refractory patients but the risk of elective colectomy, in the long-term, is not modified.