Review article: the management of mild to severe acute ulcerative colitis.
The goals for the management of acute ulcerative colitis are the objective evaluation of disease activity, induction of remission, prevention of relapse and treatment of complications. Clinical practice should be guided by simple activity indices, as it is easy to underestimate severity. For the induction of remission, topical treatment with mesalazine (mesalamine) is appropriate initial therapy for distal disease but, if symptoms persist for over a fortnight, decisive treatment is usually appreciated by the patient. For mild to moderate disease, corticosteroids have been the mainstay in Europe, although high-dose aminosalicylates (such as Pentasa, 4 g orally daily and 1 g rectally) are an alternative for symptoms not interfering with daily activity. Novel therapeutic approaches in ulcerative colitis have lagged behind those used for Crohn's disease, but several (epidermal growth factor, RDP 58, basiliximab, leucocytapheresis) are on the horizon. Severe colitis, defined as a bloody stool frequency of more than six per day with any one of tachycardia (pulse > 90 beats/min), temperature (> 37.8 degrees C), anaemia (haemoglobin < 10.5 g/dL) or raised erythrocyte sedimentation rate (> 30 mm/h), is an indication for intensive intravenous treatment. National UK figures indicate that 30% of ulcerative colitis cases progress to colectomy, and objective criteria for predicting the need for colectomy have been validated. The timing of colectomy is the most important decision that a physician is called upon to make, in conjunction with the patient and surgical colleagues. For the maintenance of remission, aminosalicylates continue to be first-line therapy, although the choice of 5-aminosalicylate appears to be influenced as much by geography as by theoretical considerations. Steroids have no place in the maintenance of remission. Indications for azathioprine include patients after a severe relapse of ulcerative colitis, those with early relapse after steroids (dose of < 15 mg/day, or within 6 weeks of stopping) and those needing a second course of steroids within a year. Therapeutic decisions should have a strategy, aimed at navigating the patient around relapses and through to sustained remission. Good management depends on clinical skills, compassion and care of the individual, in addition to pharmaceuticals.