The modern medical management of acute, severe ulcerative colitis

James F. Marion, Daniel H. Present

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The management of patients with acute, severe ulcerative colitis requires careful in-hospital assessment of the patient and the coordinated treatment of a team of experienced gastroenterologists and surgeons. Complete understanding of the potential complications and their management, especially toxic megacolon, is essential. We review the current medical arsenal and advocate a standardized approach to management that includes continuous, high dose intravenous hydrocortisone, more aggressive use of topical steroids as well as feeding the patients and continuing (but not initiating) oral 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) agents. For those patients whose disease proves refractory to intravenous steroids, intravenous cyclosporin (with an acute response rate of 82%) is an essential component in the medical management of these patients. Antibiotics should be used only when specifically indicated. Total parenteral nutrition has not been shown to be helpful in the acute setting. Air contrast barium enema and colonoscopy have been used to predict response but may be dangerous diagnostic modalities in these acutely ill patients and are no better than good clinical judgement. We review and advocate long-term management of acute response using 6-mercaptopurine or azathioprine. The surgical experience and the postoperative complications of the ileal pouch anal anastomosis, which include acute pouchitis in 50-60%, chronic pouchitis in 5-10% and recent reports of dysplasia among patients with chronic pouchitis, must be considered before colectomy is advised. Over 80% of patients with acute severe colitis can be spared colectomy using our current arsenal of medical therapies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)831-835
Number of pages5
JournalEuropean Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1997


  • 6-mercaptopurine
  • Colectomy
  • Cyclosporin
  • Severe ulcerative colitis
  • Steroids
  • Toxic megacolon


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