Review article: maintenance treatment of Crohn's disease.
Biancone L., Tosti C., Fina D., Fantini M., De Nigris F., Geremia A., Pallone F.
The aetiology of Crohn's disease is unknown and therefore no curative treatments are available for the disease. The natural history of Crohn's disease is characterized by recurrent flare-ups of symptoms. Several drug treatments are effective in inducing clinical remission. However, no drug treatments are available in order to prevent clinical relapses, although several drug regimens may delay clinical flare-ups. Crohn's disease treatment for maintaining clinical remission needs to be tailored in relation to specific characteristics of each patient. The frequency of clinical relapse indeed shows marked variations in subgroups of patients, as the likelyhood of relapse is higher in patients in clinical remission for less than 6 months. Treatment strategies for maintaining remission may therefore differ among inactive patients. In chronically active, steroid-dependent or steroid-refractory Crohn's disease patients immunomodulatory drugs (azathioprine 2-2.5 mg/kg by mouth, 6-mercaptopurine 1-1.5 mg/kg by mouth, or methotrexate 15-25 mg/i.m./week) should be added to oral mesalazine (2.4 g/day), while in long-term inactive Crohn's disease patients mesalazine alone may be effective in delaying relapse. Recently, treatment with anti-tumour necrosis factor-alpha monoclonal antibodies (Infliximab or CDP571) has shown efficacy in delaying relapse in responsive patients. One other issue which needs to be considered before selecting drug treatments for maintaining remission in Crohn's disease, is that Crohn's disease activity is currently assessed on the basis of standard clinical scores which may not appropriately reflect the biological activity of the disease. Clinical remission as defined by standardized scores may include heterogeneous subgroups of patients showing different endoscopic and histological activity or persistence of activated immunocompetent cells within the gut. Several sub-clinical markers of relapse have indeed been reported in quiescent Crohn's disease, although their usefulness in clinical practice in currently uncertain.