Despite the growing use of medical salvage therapy, colectomy has remained a cornerstone in managing acute severe ulcerative colitis (ASC) both in children and in adults. Colectomy should be regarded as a life saving procedure in ASC, and must be seriously considered in any steroid-refractory patient. However, colectomy is not a cure for the disease but rather the substitution of a large problem with smaller problems, including fecal incontinence, pouchitis, irritable pouch syndrome, cuffitis, anastomotic ulcer and stenosis, missed or de-novo Crohn's disease and, in young females, reduced fecundity. This notion has led to the widespread practice of offering medical salvage therapy before colectomy in most patients without surgical abdomen or toxic megacolon. Medical salvage therapies which have proved effective in the clinical trial setting include cyclosporine, tacrolimus and infliximab, which seem equally effective in the short term. Validated predictive rules can identify a subset of patients who will eventually fail corticosteroid therapy after only 3-5 d of steroid therapy with an accuracy of 85%-95%. This accuracy is sufficiently high for initiating medical therapy, but usually not colectomy, early in the admission without delaying colectomy if required. This approach has reduced the colectomy rate in ASC from 30%-70% in the past to 10%-20% nowadays, and the mortality rate from over 70% in the 1930s to about 1%. In general, restorative proctocolectomy (ileoanal pouch or ileal pouch-anal anastomosis), especially the J-pouch, is preferred over straight pull-through (ileo-anal) or ileo-rectal anastomosis, which may still be considered in young females concerned about infertility. Colectomy in the acute severe colitis setting, is usually performed in three steps due to the severity of the inflammation, concurrent steroid treatment and the generally reduced clinical condition. The first surgical step involves colectomy and constructing an ileal stoma, the second - constructing the pouch and the third - closing the stoma. This review focuses on the role of surgical treatment in ulcerative colitis in the era of medical rescue therapy.
Keywords: Acute severe ulcerative colitis; Colectomy; Corticosteroids; Cyclosporine; Infliximab; Tacrolimus.