Background: Since transdermal nicotine is of value in the treatment of active ulcerative colitis but is often associated with side-effects, an alternative in the form of topical therapy with nicotine enemas has been developed.
Methods: In an open study, 22 patients with active colitis, all non-smokers, were asked to take a 100 mL enema containing 6 mg of nicotine every night for 4 weeks. Pre-trial treatment using mesalazine (n = 16), oral prednisolone (8), cyclosporin (1) and azathioprine (1) was kept constant for the month prior to assessment and during the study period. Symptoms, with stool frequency, were recorded on a diary card and an endoscopy was performed with rectal biopsy at the beginning of the study and after 4 weeks.
Results: Seventeen of the 22 patients completed 1 month of treatment. Mean duration of relapse was 29 weeks, range 3-94. Sixteen of 17 improved their St Mark's score. Urgency and stool frequency improved in 12 patients, sigmoidoscopic and histological scores in 10. Three patients had a full remission of symptoms with normal sigmoidoscopy. Six of 10 with a partial response continued with the enemas for a second month and five showed further improvement with full remission in two. The enema appeared effective when added to conventional treatment and produced few side-effects.
Conclusion: Topical nicotine therapy for ulcerative colitis may have a place in future management, but controlled studies are needed.