AIM: To assess the efficacy and safety of azathioprine in a paediatric population with inflammatory bowel disease. PATIENTS AND METHODS: One hundred and twenty-three Italian children treated with azathioprine were studied retrospectively. The treatment duration and causes of its discontinuation, side-effects and variation in corticosteroid dose were assessed. RESULTS: The mean age at inflammatory bowel disease diagnosis was 9.8 +/- 3.6 years, and at the start of azathioprine therapy 11.8 +/- 4.3 years. The mean duration of treatment was 19 +/- 16 months. Fifty patients (41%) stopped treatment due to surgery (12%), prolonged remission (11%), non-response (7%), severe side-effects (7%) and poor compliance (3%). Of the 73 patients (59%) remaining on azathioprine, 11 had never been treated with corticosteroids, 27 were able to stop them and 35 were still on a very low daily dose (91% < 0.3 mg/kg). The difference in the daily corticosteroid dose between the beginning of azathioprine treatment (1 +/- 0.6 mg/kg) and the conclusion of the study (0.18 +/- 0.16 mg/kg) was statistically significant. Side-effects were recorded in 48 of the 123 patients (39%), but only eight required discontinuation of azathioprine. CONCLUSIONS: Azathioprine was efficacious in 70% of patients, but ineffective in 20% and induced severe toxicity in 7%. Corticosteroids were stopped or markedly reduced in 62% of patients, but they were never given in 9%.
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