BACKGROUND: Four every ten patients receiving high-dose parenteral steroids for severe ulcerative colitis fail and may have their colon removed. Intravenous followed by oral cyclosporin has been shown to initially rescue approx. 70% of these non-responder patients, but dosages and long term-efficacy are still debated. We reviewed the clinical outcomes of patients treated with cyclosporin for refractory ulcerative colitis at our Center in the last 7 years. METHODS: Fifty-four patients destined to colectomy because of refractory ulcerative colitis (previous failure to respond to 7 days of 1 mg/kg/day steroids) were enrolled to initially receive a two-week continuous infusion of 2 mg/kg/day cyclosporin. Responders (showing at least a 50% reduction of activity) were meant to be treated with oral drug at 6-8 mg/kg/day for 6 months with the maintenance of remission and the spare of steroids being the end-points. RESULTS: Data are available for 47 patients followed-up for a minimum of 6 months up to 6 years. Of these 47, 14 did not respond to the intravenous drug and were submitted to surgery; of the remaining 33 responders (70%) entering the oral 6-month phase, 17 relapsed before end or on leaving the drug and were considered as failures. The remaining 16 (34% of the 47) left cyclosporin in remission and in need of less than 20 mg steroids daily. Of them, 12 avoided colectomy in a follow-up of 6 months-6 years. CONCLUSIONS: Intravenous cyclosporin may be rapidly effective in 7 every 10 patients whose acute ulcerative colitis fails a full-dose steroid course. However, only 3 of the initial 10 may maintain remission over a 6-month oral course. Further efforts should concentrate on improving the long term efficacy of cyclosporin.
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