Background: Thiopurines are known to cause lymphopenia (<1,500 lymphocytes/μl). As severe lymphopenia (<500C/μl) is associated with opportunistic infections, we investigated severity of thiopurine-related lymphopenia and development of opportunistic infections in our tertiary referral centre.
Methods: We retrospectively screened medical records of 1,070 IBD patients and identified 100 individuals that developed a total of 161 episodes of lymphopenia during thiopurine treatment between 2002 and 2014. Occurrence of opportunistic infections was documented. A control group consisted of IBD patients receiving thiopurines but without developing lymphopenia.
Results: Of a total of 161 episodes of lymphopenia, 23% were severe (<500C/μl). In this subgroup, thiopurine dosing was modified in 64% (dosage reduction: 32%, medication discontinued: 32%). We identified 9 cases (5.5%) of opportunistic infections, of which only two occurred during severe lymphopenia. One opportunistic infection (4.5%) was identified in the control group. No association was found between opportunistic infections and severity of lymphopenia. All patients who suffered from opportunistic infections were receiving additional immunosuppressive medication.
Conclusion: Our patients treated with thiopurines rarely developed severe lymphopenia and opportunistic infections did not occur more often than in the control group. A careful monitoring of lymphocytes and prophylactic adjustment of thiopurine therapy might contribute to this low incidence.