Background: It has been shown that azathioprine prolongs the response to ci
closporin of steroid-refractory ulcerative colitis, but no specific data ar
e available concerning its toxicity in this indication.
Aim and methods: The charts of 21 patients with steroid-refractory ulcerati
ve colitis who received azathioprine overlapping with a successful ciclospo
rin course were reviewed for the onset of toxicity. The controls consisted
of 48 initial responders to steroids who received azathioprine for steroid-
dependence or resistance/toxicity.
Results: Two of the 21 patients were withdrawn because of hypersensitivity
to azathioprine. The remaining 19 were treated for a median of 18 months to
gether with a median daily steroid dose of 35 mg: (10-75 mg) to be tapered
off. Toxicity (31%) included leukopenia alone (two cases), cholestasis alon
e (one case), cholestasis and increased amylase (one case), increased amyla
se alone (one case), and cutaneous infection (one case). The frequency of w
ithdrawal was 21%. The mean daily steroid doses were reduced from 38 mg to
3.8 mg in the study cohort, and from 25 mg: to 8 mg in the controls, among
whom toxicity (27%) included four cases each of leukopenia and increased am
ylase, two cases each of alteration of liver enzymes and infection, and one
case of gastric intolerance. Ten of the 48 controls (20%) were withdrawn f
rom the study.
Conclusion: Azathioprine is as effective and safe in the maintenance of the
response of patients with steroid-refractory ulcerative colitis to ciclosp
orin as it is in the treatment of those who respond to steroids.