Background: Recent evidence suggests that the immunosuppressive drug cyclosporin may be of benefit in treating patients with severe colitis who are steroid resistant. Although cyclosporin appears to be effective in reducing colectomy rates in the short term, few data are available on the long-term follow-up of such patients.
Aim: To investigate the short- and long-term outcome of patients with severe steroid-resistant ulcerative colitis treated with cyclosporin who were otherwise being considered for colectomy.
Methods: Twenty-two patients with severe steroid-resistant exacerbations of ulcerative colitis who were being considered for colectomy were treated with cyclosporin (4 mg/kg i.v.) daily for 7 days followed by oral treatment (6 mg/kg/day) if colectomy was avoided.
Results: Twenty of 22 patients (91%) avoided colectomy during their initial hospital admission. With a mean follow-up period of 39 months (range 31-59), eight of these patients have subsequently relapsed and required colectomy and 12 patients have avoided colectomy (53%). Of the 12 patients avoiding colectomy, seven have successfully been weaned on to azathioprine while five are maintained on an aminosalicylate alone. None of these long-term responders require maintenance corticosteroids. The main side-effects during treatment with cyclosporin were headaches (six patients, 27%), paraesthesia and tremors (four patients, 18%) and hypertension (four patients, 18%). Two patients developed renal impairment on cyclosporin which resolved on lowering the dose. In no case was cyclosporin discontinued because of an adverse reaction. No clinical or laboratory features could be identified that predicted which patients treated with cyclosporin would later require colectomy.
Conclusion: This study shows that cyclosporin is a viable alternative to emergency colectomy in severe ulcerative colitis in the short term. Although these benefits are not maintained in all patients, more than half were found to avoid colectomy in the longer term.