Article

Azathioprine and 6-mercaptopurine for maintenance of remission in ulcerative colitis.

German Cochrane Center, Stefan Meier Str. 26, Freiburg, Germany, 79104.
Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online) (Impact Factor: 5.94). 02/2007; DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000478.pub2
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Maintenance of remission is a major issue in inflammatory bowel disease. In ulcerative colitis, the evidence for the effectiveness of azathioprine and 6-mercaptopurine for the maintenance of remission is still controversial.
To assess the effectiveness and safety of azathioprine and 6-mercaptopurine for maintaining remission of ulcerative colitis.
The MEDLINE database was used to search literature from 1966 to 2006. A manual search was also performed using references from these articles as well as review articles, proceedings from major gastrointestinal meetings and data available from the Cochrane Collaboration database. Authors of maintenance trials were asked about unpublished studies.
Randomized controlled trials of at least 12 months duration that compared azathioprine or 6-mercaptopurine with placebo or standard maintenance therapy (mesalamine) were included.
Data were extracted by two raters using standard forms. Disagreements were solved by informal consent, including a third rater. Jadad scores were applied to assess study quality. Analyses were performed separately by type of control (placebo, or active comparator). Pooled odds ratios were calculated based on the fixed effects model unless heterogeneity was shown.
Six studies were identified including 286 patients with ulcerative colitis. The study quality was mostly poor. Azathioprine was shown to be superior for the maintenance of remission as compared to placebo based on four trials (failure to maintain remission: OR 0.41; 95% CI 0.24 to 0.70). Two trials that compared 6-mercaptopurine to mesalazine, or azathioprine to sulfasalazine showed significant heterogeneity. Both studies using active comparators were open label. Adverse effects occurred in 11 of 127 patients receiving azathioprine, including acute pancreatitis (3 cases) and significant bone marrow suppression (5 cases).
Azathioprine may be an effective maintenance therapy for patients who have failed or cannot tolerate mesalazine or sulfasalazine and for patients who require repeated courses of steroids. More research is needed to evaluate superiority over standard maintenance therapy, especially in the light of a potential for adverse events from azathioprine.

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