Thiopurines are used as maintenance therapy in ulcerative colitis (UC), but whether these drugs influence the natural history of the disease is unknown. We aimed to assess the effect of thiopurines in terms of colectomy, hospital admission, progression in disease extent and anti-tumour necrosis factor (TNF) therapy within 10 years from initiation.
Patients diagnosed with UC within the Örebro University Hospital catchment area, during 1963-2010, who initiated thiopurines (n=253) were included. To overcome the risk of confounding by indication, we compared patients who stopped treatment within 12 months because of an adverse reaction (n=76) with patients who continued therapy or discontinued due to other reasons (n=177) and assessed long-term outcomes using Cox regression with adjustment for potential confounding factors.
The cumulative probability of colectomy within 10 years was 19.5% in tolerant patients compared with 29.0% in intolerant (adjusted HR 0.49; 95% CI 0.21 to 0.73). The probability of hospital admission was 34.0% in tolerant versus 56.2% in intolerant patients (adjusted HR 0.36; 95% CI 0.23 to 0.56). The risk for progression in disease extent was 20.4% in tolerant patients compared with 48.8% in intolerant (adjusted HR 0.47; 95% CI 0.21 to 1.06). Within 10 years, 16.1% of tolerant and 27.5% of intolerant patients received anti-TNF therapy (adjusted HR 0.49; 95% CI 0.26 to 0.92).
Based on the novel approach of comparing patients tolerant and intolerant to thiopurines, we reveal that thiopurines have a profound beneficial impact of the natural history and long-term colectomy rates of UC.