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Dig Dis. 2013;31(3-4):368-73. doi: 10.1159/000354699. Epub 2013 Nov 14.

Risks of inflammatory bowel disease treatment with glucocorticosteroids and aminosalicylates.

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Department of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, University Hospital Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland.



Glucocorticosteroids and aminosalicylates, mainly mesalazine (5-ASA), are both standard therapeutics in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients. The glucocorticosteroids are highly effective in inducing remission in both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, but their use is limited by the high incidence and the potentially serious nature of adverse events. In an attempt to limit systemic side effects, rapidly metabolized corticosteroids such as budesonide have been introduced. The safety profile of aminosalicylates differs between the formulations.


We summarize the potential risks associated with glucocorticosteroid and aminosalicylate therapy in IBDs.


The numerous adverse events of glucocorticosteroids, particularly at high doses and prolonged treatment, include opportunistic infections, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, ocular effects (glaucoma and cataracts), psychiatric complications, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis suppression and increased fracture risk. Partially, these systemic adverse events occur with budesonide, which only has a low systemic exposure. The safety profile of 5-ASA is comparable to placebo and superior to the old aminosalicylate prodrug sulfasalazine, which had a significantly higher incidence of intolerance reactions including allergic rashes. Only in rare cases has nephrotoxicity such as interstitial nephritis been associated with 5-ASA.


Considering the toxicity profile of conventional glucocorticosteroids, one primary goal of treatment in IBD should be corticosteroid-free remission. Therapy with budesonide may result in a better safety profile. 5-ASA treatment is usually well tolerated, but with regard to the rare nephrotoxic events, it is advisable to assess renal function before and during treatment with 5-ASA.

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