Sixty-four patients with active distal ulcerative colitis participated in a multicentre, randomized, investigator-blind trial to compare the effect of budesonide enema, 2 mg/100 ml, with prednisolone disodium phosphate enema, 31.25 mg/100 ml. Budesonide is a new potent corticosteroid with a rapid first-pass elimination. The patients were treated for 4 weeks, and the efficacy of the drugs were evaluated by sigmoidoscopy, histology, and subjective symptoms after 2 and 4 weeks. After 4 weeks of treatment 16 of 31 patients (52%) receiving budesonide enema had healed endoscopically, compared with 8 of 33 (24%) (p = 0.045) receiving prednisolone enema. Budesonide was superior to prednisolone in terms of both significantly improved sigmoidoscopic and histologic scores and subjective symptoms evaluated by visual analogue scales. The patients receiving prednisolone had a significant depression of endogenous cortisol levels during the treatment period, but not the patients receiving budesonide. Budesonide enema seems to be a promising therapy for active distal ulcerative colitis and causes no adverse reactions.