Crohn's Disease (cont.)
Adam Schoenfeld, MD
George Y. Wu, MD, PhD
In this Article
5-ASA rectal medications (Rowasa Canasa)
Rowasa is 5-ASA in enema form. 5-ASA by enema is most useful for treating ulcerative colitis involving only the distal colon since the enema easily can reach the inflamed tissues of the distal colon. Rowasa also is used in treating Crohn's disease in which there is inflammation in and near the rectum. Each Rowasa enema contains 4 grams of 5-ASA. The enema usually is administered at bedtime, and patients are encouraged to retain the enema through the night. The enema contains sulfite and should not be used by patients with sulfite allergy. Otherwise, Rowasa enemas are safe and well-tolerated.
Canasa is 5-ASA in suppository form. It is used for treating ulcerative proctitis. Each suppository contains 500 mg of 5-ASA and usually is administered twice daily.
Both enemas and suppositories have been shown to be effective in maintaining remission in patients with ulcerative colitis limited to the distal colon and rectum.
Corticosteroids (for example, prednisone, prednisolone, hydrocortisone, etc.) have been used for many years to treat patients with moderate to severe Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis and to treat patients who fail to respond to 5-ASA. Unlike 5-ASA, corticosteroids do not require direct contact with the inflamed intestinal tissues to be effective.
Oral corticosteroids are potent anti-inflammatory medications. After absorption, corticosteroids exert prompt anti-inflammatory actions throughout the body, including the intestines. Consequently, they are used in treating Crohn's disease anywhere in the small intestine, as well as ulcerative and Crohn's colitis. In critically ill patients, intravenous corticosteroids (such as hydrocortisone) can be given in the hospital. For patients with proctitis, hydrocortisone enemas (Cortenema) can be used to deliver the corticosteroid directly to the inflamed tissue. By using the corticosteroid topically, less of it is absorbed into the body and the frequency and severity of side effects are lessened (but not eliminated) as compared with systemic corticosteroids.
Corticosteroids are faster-acting than 5-ASA, and patients frequently experience improvement in their symptoms within days of beginning them. Corticosteroids, however, do not appear to be useful in maintaining remission in Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis or in preventing the return of Crohn's disease after surgery.
Side effects of corticosteroids
The frequency and severity of side effects of corticosteroids depend on the dose and duration of their use. Short courses of corticosteroids, for example, usually are well-tolerated with few and mild side effects. Long-term use of high doses of corticosteroids usually produces predictable and potentially serious side effects. Common side effects include:
Children receiving corticosteroids experience stunted growth.
The most serious complication from long term corticosteroid use is aseptic necrosis of the hip joints. Aseptic necrosis is a condition in which there is death and degeneration of the hip bone. It is a painful condition that can ultimately lead to the need for surgical replacement of the hip. Aseptic necrosis also has been reported in the knee joints. It is not known how corticosteroids cause aseptic necrosis. The estimated incidence of aseptic necrosis among corticosteroid users is 3% to 4%. Patients on corticosteroids who develop pain in the hips or knees should report the pain to their doctors promptly. Early diagnosis of aseptic necrosis with cessation of corticosteroids might decrease the severity of the aseptic necrosis and the need for hip replacement surgery.
Prolonged use of corticosteroids can depress the ability of the body's adrenal glands to produce cortisol (a natural corticosteroid necessary for proper functioning of the body). Therefore, abruptly discontinuing corticosteroids can cause symptoms due to a lack of natural cortisol (a condition called adrenal insufficiency). Symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include nausea, vomiting, and even shock. Withdrawing corticosteroids too quickly also can produce symptoms of joint pain, fever, and malaise. Therefore, when corticosteroids are discontinued, the dose usually is tapered gradually rather than stopped abruptly.
Even after corticosteroids are discontinued, the adrenal glands' ability to produce cortisol can remain depressed from months up to two years. The depressed adrenal glands may not be able to produce increased amounts of cortisol to help the body handle the stress of accidents, surgery, and infections. Therefore, patients need additional corticosteroids during stressful situations to avoid developing adrenal insufficiency. Because corticosteroids are not useful in maintaining remission in ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, and because they have predictable and potentially serious side effects, they should be used for the shortest possible length of time.
Proper use of corticosteroids
Once the decision is made to use systemic corticosteroids, treatment usually is initiated with prednisone, 40-60 mg daily. The majority of patients with Crohn's disease respond with an improvement in symptoms within a few weeks. Once symptoms have improved, prednisone is reduced by 5-10 mg per week until a dose of 20 mg per day is reached. The dose then is reduced at a slower rate until the corticosteroid is discontinued. Gradually reducing corticosteroids not only minimizes the symptoms of adrenal insufficiency, it also reduces the chances of an abrupt recurrence of inflammation.
Many doctors use 5-ASA compounds and corticosteroids together. In patients who achieve remission with corticosteroids, 5-ASA compounds often are continued alone to maintain remission.
In patients whose symptoms return while corticosteroids are slowly being reduced, the dose of corticosteroids is increased slightly to control the symptoms. Once the symptoms are under control, the reduction of corticosteroids can resume at a slower pace. Unfortunately, many patients who require corticosteroids to induce remissions become corticosteroid dependent, (especially individuals who smoke and have disease of the colon). These patients consistently develop symptoms whenever the corticosteroid dose falls below a certain level. In such patients who are corticosteroid dependent as well as in patients who are unresponsive to corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory medications, immuno-modulator medications, or surgery must be considered. The management of patients who are corticosteroid dependent or patients with severe disease that responds poorly to medications is complex. Doctors who are experienced in treating ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease and in using immuno-modulators should evaluate these patients.
Prevention of osteoporosis
Long-term use of corticosteroids can cause osteoporosis. Calcium is very important in the formation and maintenance of healthy bones. Corticosteroids decrease the absorption of calcium from the intestine and increase the loss of calcium from the kidneys. Increasing dietary calcium intake is important but alone cannot halt corticosteroid-induced osteoporosis. To prevent or minimize osteoporosis, management of patients on long-term corticosteroids should include:
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