Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

BACKGROUND: Azathioprine intolerance is a common clinical problem, requiring drug withdrawal in up to 30% of patients. The successful use of mercaptopurine is described, but data to support this strategy are needed. AIMS: To assess the tolerability of mercaptopurine in inflammatory bowel disease patients previously intolerant of azathioprine, and identify predictive factors. METHODS: Sixty-one azathioprine-intolerant patients (31 males, median age at diagnosis 32 years, 31 with Crohn's disease, 30 with ulcerative colitis) who had been treated with mercaptopurine were identified. Intolerances included nausea and vomiting, flu-like illness, neutropenia, hepatotoxicity and pancreatitis. RESULTS: Mercaptopurine was tolerated by 59% (36 of 61) of azathioprine-intolerant patients (median dose 1.0 mg/kg), 61% (17 of 28) in patients with azathioprine-related nausea and vomiting, 61% (11 of 18) with flu-like illness, 33% (three of nine) with hepatotoxicity, 100% (one of one) with neutropenia, 100% (three of three) with rash and 0% (zero of one) with pancreatitis. Mercaptopurine intolerance was frequently for a different adverse event. Those intolerant of mercaptopurine were younger (28.4 years vs. 37.0 years; P = 0.014) and more frequently female (14/30 vs. 2/29, P = 0.027). Mercaptopurine tolerability was not affected by diagnosis, location, behaviour, surgery, smoking, family history or extra-intestinal manifestations. CONCLUSION: Mercaptopurine may be tolerated in up to 60% of azathioprine-intolerant patients, and treatment should be considered, particularly if intolerance was due to nausea, vomiting, flu-like illness or rash.

Original publication




Journal article


Aliment Pharmacol Ther

Publication Date





220 - 227


Adult, Age Distribution, Azathioprine, Colitis, Ulcerative, Crohn Disease, Drug Administration Schedule, Drug Hypersensitivity, Female, Humans, Immunosuppressive Agents, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Male, Mercaptopurine, Middle Aged, Sex Distribution, Statistics, Nonparametric