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Dig Liver Dis. 2004 Jan;36(1):21-8.

Outcome of a conservative approach in severe ulcerative colitis.

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  • 1Gastroenterology Unit, Mauriziano Umberto 1, Largo Turati 62, 10128 Turin, Italy.



Severe ulcerative colitis is potentially life threatening even though a policy of intensive medical management and early colectomy in recent years reduced mortality to almost zero. However, colectomy, with or without ileal-anal anastomosis, has its own problems (morbidity, pouchitis, cuffitis) and no reliable prognostic index of surgical outcome has been developed. Intravenous steroids are still the mainstay of medical therapy but their maximal duration before stating a 'treatment failure' has not been defined.


To evaluate the effectiveness, safety and outcome of an intensive medical approach in a series of patients with severe ulcerative colitis.


One hundred and forty-nine episodes of severe ulcerative colitis in 115 patients admitted to a Gastroenterology Unit in a 7-year period were retrospectively evaluated. Intravenous glucocorticosteroids--methylprednisolone 1 mg/kg/day--and topical steroids were administered, and supportive treatments with intensive monitoring were extended to all the patients. Second-line strategies for steroid-refractoriness were prolonged glucocorticosteroids treatment, oral ciclosporin, infliximab or surgery.


The median number of Truelove criteria at admission was 3 (range 2-5), median CRP 34 mg/l (range 10-196). Median follow-up after discharge was 49 months. In 84 (57%) episodes an early response was noted, while 65 (43%) did not respond within 10 days to the standard steroid treatment. In the non-responders group, 28 patients went into remission with a prolonged steroid treatment (slow responders); 15 patients were treated with ciclosporin (eight responders) and 6 with infliximab (four responders). A total of 24 colectomies was performed in this group of patients (in 21 cases within 30 days from admission). Slow responders showed lower albumin levels (P = 0.02), higher cumulative dose of glucocorticosteroids in the year prior to admission (P = 0.02) and higher age (P = 0.03), in comparison with early responders. Major complications were noted in four episodes which responded to medical treatment. Disease-related mortality was zero.


Medical treatment and use of second-line therapies were effective in the present series of patients. A group of slow responders has been identified and, if an intensive medical monitoring is guaranteed, steroids can be safely prolonged after the first 10 days of treatment. Cumulatively, about 80% of the patients responded to short-term medical treatment, only 5% of the patients underwent colectomy in the follow-up period. Major adverse events were recorded in four patients, who had recovered completely after adequate medical treatment.

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