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Treatment of severe steroid refractory ulcerative colitis.

Although systemic steroids are highly efficacious in ulcerative colitis (UC), failure to respond to steroids still poses an important challenge to the surgeon and physician alike. Even if the life time risk of a fulminant UC flare is only 20%, this condition is potentially life threatening and should be managed in hospital. If patients fail 3 to 5 d of intravenous corticosteroids and optimal supportive care, they should be considered for any of three options: intravenous cyclosporine (2 mg/kg for 7 d, and serum level controlled), infliximab (5 mg/kg IV, 0-2-6 wk) or total colectomy. The choice between these three options is a medical-surgical decision based on clinical signs, radiological and endoscopic findings and blood analysis (CRP, serum albumin). Between 65 and 85% of patients will initially respond to cyclosporine and avoid colectomy on the short term. Over 5 years only 50% of initial responders avoid colectomy and outcomes are better in patients naive to azathioprine (bridging strategy). The data on infliximab as a medical rescue in fulminant colitis are more limited although the efficacy of this anti tumor necrosis factor (TNF) monoclonal antibody has been demonstrated in a controlled trial. Controlled data on the comparative efficacy of cyclosporine and infliximab are not available at this moment. Both drugs are immunosuppressants and are used in combination with steroids and azathioprine, which infers a risk of serious, even fatal, opportunistic infections. Therefore, patients not responding to these agents within 5-7 d should be considered for colectomy and responders should be closely monitored for infections.

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