Comparative tolerability of treatments for inflammatory bowel disease

Robert B. Stein, Stephen B. Hanauer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

158 Scopus citations


Despite limited understanding of therapeutic aetiopathogenesis of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, there is a strong evidence base for the efficacy of pharmacological and biological therapies. It is equally important to recognise toxicity of the medical armamentarium for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Sulfasalazine consists of sulfapyridine linked to 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) via an azo bond. Common adverse effects related to sulfapyridine 'intolerance' include headache, nausea, anorexia, and malaise. Other allergic or toxic adverse effects include fever, rash, haemolytic anaemia, hepatitis, pancreatitis, paradoxical worsening of colitis, and reversible sperm abnormalities. The newer 5-ASA agents were developed to deliver the active ingredient of sulfasalazine while minimising adverse effects. Adverse effects are infrequent but may include nausea, dyspepsia and headache. Olsalazine may cause a secretory diarrhoea. Uncommon hypersensitivity reactions, including worsening of colitis, pancreatitis, pericarditis and nephritis, have also been reported. Corticosteroids are commonly prescribed for treatment of moderate to severe IBD. Despite short term efficacy, corticosteroids have numerous adverse effects that preclude their long term use. Adverse effects include acne, fluid retention, fat redistributions, hypertension, hyperglycaemia, psycho-neurological disturbances, cataracts, adrenal suppression, growth failure in children, and osteonecrosis. Newer corticosteroid preparations offer potential for targeted therapy and less corticosteroid-related adverse effects. Azathioprine and mercaptopurine are associated with pancreatitis in 3 to 15% of patients that resolves upon drug cessation. Bone marrow suppression is dose related and may be delayed. The adverse effects of methotrexate include nausea, leucopenia and, rarely, hypersensitivity pneumonia or hepatic fibrosis. Common adverse effects of cyclosporin include nephrotoxicity, hypertension, headache, gingival hyperplasia, hyperkalaemia, paresthesias, and tremors. These adverse effects usually abate with dose reduction or cessation of therapy. Seizures and opportunistic infections have also been reported. Antibacterials are commonly employed as primary therapy for Crohn's disease. Common adverse effects of metronidazole include nausea and a metallic taste. Peripheral neuropathy can occur with prolonged administration. Ciprofloxacin and other antibacterials may be beneficial in those intolerant to metronidazole. Newer immunosuppressive agents previously reserved for transplant recipients are under investigation for IBD. Tacrolimus has an adverse effect profile similar to cyclosporin, and may cause renal insufficiency. Mycophenolate mofetil, a purine synthesis inhibitor, has primarily gastrointestinal adverse effects. Biological agents targeting specific sites in the immunoinflammatory cascade are now available to treat IBD. Infliximab, a chimeric antibody targeting tumour necrosis factor-α has been well tolerated in clinical trials and early postmarketing experience. Additional trials are needed to assess long term adverse effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)429-448
Number of pages20
JournalDrug Safety
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology


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