Purpose: To assess the effectiveness of the newer 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) delivery systems compared with placebo or sulfasalazine for the treatment of active ulcerative colitis and for the maintenance of remission.
Data sources: Pertinent studies were selected using the MEDLINE and BIOS (1981 to 1992) data bases, reference lists from published articles, reviews, symposia proceedings, and abstracts from major gastrointestinal meetings.
Study selection: Randomized controlled trials of 5-ASA compared with placebo or sulfasalazine of a minimum of 4 weeks duration for active disease and a minimum of 6 months for maintenance of disease remission. Sixteen trials of 5-ASA for active disease, published either in abstract or full manuscript, were available. Eleven trials of 5-ASA for maintenance of remission were also reviewed.
Data extraction: Crude rates for either induction of remission (active disease studies) or maintenance of remission (relapse-prevention trials) based on the intention-to-treat principle were extracted from the studies by two independent observers. Each study was given a quality score, based on predetermined criteria.
Results: Studies were placed in three groups: 5-ASA compared with placebo, 5-ASA compared with sulfasalazine for active disease, and 5-ASA compared with sulfasalazine for maintenance of remission. 5-Aminosalicylic acid was superior to placebo in the treatment of active ulcerative colitis (pooled odds ratio, 2.02; 95% CI, 1.50 to 2.72). A dose-response effect for 5-ASA existed (P < 0.001). For active disease, the pooled odds ratio for 5-ASA compared with sulfasalazine was 1.15 (CI, 0.83 to 1.61). When 5-ASA was compared with sulfasalazine for maintenance of disease remission, the pooled odds ratio was 0.85 (CI, 0.64 to 1.15). Withdrawal rates and reported side effects were similar for 5-ASA compared with placebo- or sulfasalazine-treated patients.
Conclusions: Although the newer 5-ASA preparations in a dose of at least 2 g/d are more effective than placebo in the treatment of ulcerative colitis, insufficient evidence exists to suggest that they are superior to sulfasalazine. Although they offer a benefit to the sulfasalazine-sensitive patient, use of 5-ASA preparations instead of sulfasalazine in the treatment of ulcerative colitis cannot yet be substantiated.