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Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2001 Jan 1;58(1):41-50; quiz 51-3.

Treatment strategies for recurrent oral aphthous ulcers.

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  • 1Clinical Pharmacy, Xavier University of Louisiana, 1 Drexel Street, New Orleans, LA 70125-1098, USA.


The clinical features, etiology, and treatment of recurrent aphthous ulcers (RAU) are discussed. Aphthous ulcers are among the most common oral lesions in the general population, with a frequency of up to 25% and three-month recurrence rates as high as 50%. The ulcers, which usually occur on the nonkeratinized oral mucosa, can cause considerable pain and may interfere with eating, speaking, and swallowing. RAU is classified as minor, major, and herpetiform on the basis of ulcer size and number. The cause of RAU is idiopathic in most patients. The most likely precipitating factors are local trauma and stress. Other associated factors include systemic diseases and nutritional deficiencies, food allergies, genetic predisposition, immune disorders, the use of certain medications, and HIV infection. The primary goals of therapy for RAU are relief of pain, reduction of ulcer duration, and restoration of normal oral function. Secondary goals include reduction in the frequency and severity of recurrences and maintenance of remission. Topical medications, such as antimicrobial mouthwashes and topical corticosteroids, can achieve the primary goals but have not been shown to alter recurrence or remission rates. Systemic medications can be tried if topical therapy is ineffective. Levamisole has shown variable efficacy in reducing ulcer frequency and duration in patients with minor RAU. Oral corticosteroids should be reserved for severe cases of major RAU that do not respond to topical agents. Thalidomide is effective but, because of its toxicity and cost, should be used only as an alternative to oral corticosteroids. RAU can be effectively managed with a variety of topical and systemic medications.

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