Ulcerative Colitis (cont.)
Adam Schoenfeld, MD
George Y. Wu, MD, PhD
In this Article
What are the Treatments for Ulcerative Colitis?
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Both medications and surgery have been used to treat ulcerative colitis. However, surgery is reserved for those with severe inflammation and life-threatening complications. There is no medication that can cure ulcerative colitis. Patients with ulcerative colitis will typically experience periods of relapse (worsening of inflammation) followed by periods of remission (resolution of inflammation) lasting months to years. During relapses, symptoms of abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding worsen. During remissions, these symptoms subside. Remissions usually occur because of treatment with medications or surgery, but occasionally they occur spontaneously, that is, without any treatment.
What are ulcerative colitis medications?
Since ulcerative colitis cannot be cured by medication, the goals of treatment with medication are to 1) induce remissions, 2) maintain remissions, 3) minimize side effects of treatment, 4) improve the quality of life, and 5) minimize risk of cancer. Treatment of ulcerative colitis with medications is similar, though not always identical, to treatment of Crohn's disease.
Medications treating ulcerative colitis include 1) anti-inflammatory agents such as 5-ASA compounds, systemic corticosteroids, topical corticosteroids, and 2) immunomodulators.
Anti-inflammatory medications that decrease intestinal inflammation are analogous to arthritis medications that decrease joint inflammation (arthritis). The anti-inflammatory medications that are used in the treatment of ulcerative colitis are:
Immunomodulators are medications that suppress the body's immune system either by reducing the cells that are responsible for immunity, or by interfering with proteins that are important in promoting inflammation. Immunomodulators increasingly are becoming important treatments for patients with severe ulcerative colitis who do not respond adequately to anti-inflammatory agents. Examples of immunomodulators include 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP), azathioprine (Imuran), methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall), cyclosporine (Gengraf, Neoral).
It has long been observed that the risk of ulcerative colitis appears to be higher in nonsmokers and in ex-smokers. In certain circumstances, patients improve when treated with nicotine.
Reviewed by Jay W. Marks, MD on 5/16/2013
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