Maintenance treatment with azathioprine in ulcerative colitis: outcome and predictive factors after drug withdrawal.
Cassinotti A., Actis GC., Duca P., Massari A., Colombo E., Gai E., Annese V., D'Albasio G., Manes G., Travis S., Porro GB., Ardizzone S.
OBJECTIVES: Whether the duration of maintenance treatment with azathioprine (AZA) affects the outcome of ulcerative colitis (UC) is unclear. We investigated clinical outcomes and any predictive factors after withdrawal of AZA in UC. METHODS: In this multicenter observational retrospective study, 127 Italian UC patients, who were in steroid-free remission at the time of withdrawal of AZA, were followed-up for a median of 55 months or until relapse. The frequency of clinical relapse or colectomy after AZA withdrawal was analyzed according to demographic, clinical, and endoscopic variables. RESULTS: After drug withdrawal, a third of the patients relapsed within 12 months, half within 2 years and two-thirds within 5 years. After multivariable analysis, predictors of relapse after drug withdrawal were lack of sustained remission during AZA maintenance (hazard ratio, HR 2.350, confidence interval, CI 95% 1.434-3.852; P=0.001), extensive colitis (HR 1.793, CI 95% 1.064-3.023, P=0.028 vs. left-sided colitis; HR 2.024, CI 95% 1.103-3.717, P=0.023 vs. distal colitis), and treatment duration, with short treatments (3-6 months) more disadvantaged than >48-month treatments (HR 2.783, CI 95% 1.267-6.114, P=0.008). Concomitant aminosalicylates were the only predictors of sustained remission during AZA therapy (P=0.009). The overall colectomy rate was 10%. Predictors of colectomy were drug-related toxicity as the cause of AZA withdrawal (P=0.041), no post-AZA drug therapy (P=0.031), and treatment duration (P<0.0005). CONCLUSIONS: Discontinuation of AZA while UC is in remission is associated with a high relapse rate. Disease extent, lack of sustained remission during AZA, and discontinuation due to toxicity could stratify relapse risk. Concomitant aminosalicylates were advantageous. Prospective randomized controlled trials are needed to confirm whether treatment duration is inversely associated with outcome.