Rectal 5-aminosalicylic acid (suppository, foam or liquid enema) for maintenance of remission in ulcerative colitis

5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) is a commonly used medication for treatment of mild and moderately active ulcerative colitis (UC) and UC in remission. When UC affects only the lower third of the colon, 5-ASA can be delivered as a rectal suppository, foam or liquid enema. This review includes nine randomized trials with a total of 484 participants. The limited data available suggest that rectal 5-ASA is effective and safe for maintenance of remission in UC. Rectal 5-ASA was found to be superior to placebo (e.g. enema or suppository with no active medicine). There was no difference in the incidence of side effects between rectal 5-ASA and placebo groups. Side effects were generally mild in nature and common side effects included anal irritation and abdominal pain. Studies comparing rectal 5-ASA with oral 5-ASA (pills) found no differences in effectiveness for maintenance therapy. Well designed randomized trials are needed to investigate different doses of rectal 5-ASA for maintenance therapy, Future studies should assess the effectiveness of combination therapy of oral 5-ASA with rectal 5-ASA as this has been found to be effective in active UC and has not been investigated for maintenance therapy. Future studies should also compare rectal 5-ASA with rectal corticosteroids.

Authors' conclusions: 

The limited data available suggest that rectal 5-ASA is effective and safe for maintenance of remission of mild to moderately active distal UC. Well designed randomized trials are needed to establish the optimal dosing regimen for rectal 5-ASA, to compare rectal 5-ASA with rectal corticosteroids and to identify subgroups of patients who are more or less responsive to specific rectal 5-ASA regimens. The combination of oral and rectal 5-ASA appears to be more effective than either oral or rectal monotherapy for induction of remission. The efficacy of combination therapy for maintenance of remission has not been assessed and could be evaluated in future trials.

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Background: 

5-Aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) is a first-line therapy for inducing and maintaining remission of mild and moderately active ulcerative colitis (UC). When the proximal margin of inflammation is distal to the splenic flexure, 5-ASA therapy can be delivered as a rectal suppository, foam or liquid enema.

Objectives: 

The primary objective was to assess the efficacy and safety of rectal 5-ASA for maintaining remission of distal UC.

Search strategy: 

We searched MEDLINE (1966 to August 2012), the Cochrane Library (August 2012), abstracts from major gastroenterology meetings (1997-2011) and bibliographies of relevant publications to identify relevant studies.

Selection criteria: 

Eligible studies were randomized controlled trials comparing rectal 5-ASA to placebo or another active treatment for a minimum duration of six months. Symptom scores needed to be assessed in at least one study outcome. Patients had to be at least 12 years of age with disease extent less than 60 cm from the anal verge or distal to the splenic flexure, as determined by barium enema, colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. Patients were expected to be in remission prior to the treatment trial.

Data collection and analysis: 

Study eligibility was independently assessed by three authors. Data were extracted using standardized forms by two independent reviewers, with inter-rater agreement assessed using Cohen's Kappa and disagreements resolved by consensus. In cases where clarification of study results or methodology was needed, corresponding authors were contacted. The methodological quality of each trial was assessed by the Cochrane risk of bias tool and by a 30-point scale developed and used previously by the authors. Pooled risk ratios (RR) and corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CI) for continued clinical, endoscopic and histologic remission were estimated for comparisons between rectal 5-ASA and placebo or oral 5-ASA, and for comparisons among 5-ASA doses. Heterogeneity was assessed using the Chi2 test and visual inspection of forest plots. If no significant heterogeneity was identified (P > 0.10 for Chi2) a fixed-effect model (Mantel-Haenstzel) was used. If heterogeneity was significant, a random-effects model was used.

Main results: 

Nine studies (484 patients) met the pre-specified inclusion criteria (Kappa 1.00). Six studies were rated as low risk of bias. Three studies were rated as high risk of bias due to blinding (two open label and one single-blind). The total daily dose of rectal 5-ASA ranged from 0.5 g to 4 g, and dose frequency ranged from once to three times daily. 5-ASA was delivered as liquid enema in five studies or as a suppository in four studies. Follow-up ranged from 6 to 24 months. Rectal 5-ASA was significantly superior to placebo for maintenance of symptomatic remission over a period of 12 months.Sixty-two per cent of patients in the rectal 5-ASA group maintained symptomatic remission compared to 30% of patients in the placebo group (4 studies; 301 patients; RR 2.22, 95% CI 1.26 to 3.90; I2 = 67%; P < 0.01). A GRADE analysis indicated that the overall quality of the evidence for the primary outcome was low due to imprecision (i.e. sparse data 144 events) and inconsistency (i.e. unexplained heterogeneity). Rectal 5-ASA was significantly superior to placebo for maintenance of endoscopic remission over a 12 month period. Seventy-five per cent of patients in the rectal 5-ASA group maintained endoscopic remission compared to 15% of patients in the placebo group (1 study; 25 patients; RR 4.88, 95% CI 1.31 to 18.18; P < 0.05). There was no statistically significant difference in the proportion of patients who experienced at least one adverse event. Sixteen per cent of patients in the rectal 5-ASA group experienced at least one adverse compared to 12% of placebo patients (2 studies; 160 patients; RR 1.35, 95% CI 0.63 to 2.89; I2 = 0%; P = 0.44). The most commonly reported adverse events were anal irritation and abdominal pain. No statistically significant differences between rectal and oral 5-ASA were identified for either symptomatic or endoscopic remission over a period of six months. Eighty per cent of patients in the rectal 5-ASA group maintained symptomatic remission compared to 65% of patients in the oral 5-ASA group (2 studies; 69 patients; RR 1.24, 95% CI 0.92 to 1.66; I2 = 0%; P = 0.15). A GRADE analysis indicated that the overall quality of the evidence for the primary outcome was low due to imprecision (i.e. sparse data 50 events) and high risk of bias (i.e. both studies in the pooled analysis were open label). Eighty per cent of patients in the rectal 5-ASA group maintained endoscopic remission compared to 70% of patients in the oral 5-ASA group (2 studies; 91 patients; RR 1.14, 95% CI 0.90 to 1.45; I2 = 0%; P = 0.26). In two small trials, one comparing 2 g/day 5-ASA enemas to 4 g/day 5-ASA enemas and the other comparing 0.5 g/day 5-ASA suppositories to 1 g/day 5-ASA suppositories no dose response relationship was observed.

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