Aminosalicylates for treatment of active Crohn's disease

What is Crohn's disease?

Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines. Although Crohn's disease is often found in the ileum (the lower part of the small intestine), it can occur in any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus. The most common symptoms of Crohn's disease are diarrhea and abdominal pain which often occurs in the lower right region of the abdomen.

What are aminosalicylates?

Aminosalicylates are a family of medications with various formulations that deliver the active ingredient, mesalamine, to target sites. Aminosalicylates are thought to treat Crohn's disease by reducing the inflammation of the intestines caused by the disease.

What did the researchers investigate?

The researchers investigated whether aminosalicylates produce remission or alleviate disease severity in individuals with mildly to moderately active Crohn's disease, and whether they cause any harms (side effects). The researchers searched the medical literature extensively up to June 10, 2015.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers identified twenty studies including a total of 2367 participants. Ten studies were judged to be of moderate to high quality, while the other ten studies were judged to be of low quality. The studies compared aminosalicylates (sulfasalazine, mesalazine and mesalamine) with placebo (inactive pills or tablets), corticosteroids or budesonide (a steroid that is rapidly metabolized by the body and has less side-effects than traditional corticosteroids).

The researchers found that, comparing to placebo, sulfasalazine provides only a modest benefit for the treatment of mild to moderately active Crohn's disease and is inferior to corticosteroids for treatment of active Crohn's disease. Sulphasalazine differs from other aminosalicylates in that it contains a sulpha portion that has been eliminated in the other preparations.

Mesalazine and mesalamine formulations are not effective for inducing remission in active Crohn's disease. Budesonide was compared to high dose mesalamine (4 to 4.5 g/day) but results were conflicting. One study found mesalamine to be inferior to budesonide and the other study found no difference in effectiveness between mesalamine and budesonide.

Side effects are generally mild in nature and typically include headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

In conclusion, sulfasalazine is only modestly effective for the treatment of active Crohn's disease. However, the existing data show little benefit for mesalamine. 

Authors' conclusions: 

Sulfasalazine is only modestly effective with a trend towards benefit over placebo and is inferior to corticosteroids for the treatment of mildly to moderately active Crohn's disease. Olsalazine and low dose mesalamine (1 to 2 g/day) are not superior to placebo. High dose mesalamine (3.2 to 4 g/day) is not more effective than placebo for inducing response or remission. However, trials assessing the efficacy of high dose mesalamine (4 to 4.5 g/day) compared to budesonide yielded conflicting results and firm conclusions cannot be made. Future large randomized controlled trials are needed to provide definitive evidence on the efficacy of aminosalicylates in active Crohn's disease.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Randomized trials investigating the efficacy of aminosalicylates for the treatment of mildly to moderately active Crohn's disease have yielded conflicting results. A systematic review was conducted to critically examine current available data on the efficacy of sulfasalazine and mesalamine for inducing remission or clinical response in these patients.

Objectives: 

To evaluate the efficacy of aminosalicylates compared to placebo, corticosteroids, and other aminosalicylates (alone or in combination with corticosteroids) for the treatment of mildly to moderately active Crohn's disease.

Search strategy: 

We searched PubMed, EMBASE, MEDLINE and the Cochrane Central Library from inception to June 2015 to identify relevant studies. There were no language restrictions. We also searched reference lists from potentially relevant papers and review articles, as well as proceedings from annual meetings (1991-2015) of the American Gastroenterological Association and American College of Gastroenterology.

Selection criteria: 

Randomized controlled trials that evaluated the efficacy of sulfasalazine or mesalamine in the treatment of mildly to moderately active Crohn's disease compared to placebo, corticosteroids, and other aminosalicylates (alone or in combination with corticosteroids) were included.

Data collection and analysis: 

Data extraction and assessment of methodological quality was independently performed by the investigators and any disagreement was resolved by discussion and consensus. We assessed methodological quality using the Cochrane risk of bias tool. The overall quality of the evidence supporting the outcomes was evaluated using the GRADE criteria. The primary outcome measure was a well defined clinical endpoint of induction of remission or response to treatment. Secondary outcomes included mean Crohn's disease activity index (CDAI) scores, adverse events, serious adverse events and withdrawal due to adverse events. For dichotomous outcomes we calculated the pooled risk ratio (RR) and corresponding 95% confidence interval (CI) using a random-effects model. For continuous outcomes we calculated the mean difference (MD) and 95% CI using a random-effects model. Sensitivity analyses based on a fixed-effect model and duration of therapy were conducted where appropriate.

Main results: 

Twenty studies (2367 patients) were included. Two studies were judged to be at high risk of bias due to lack of blinding. Eight studies were judged to be at high risk of bias due to incomplete outcomes data (high drop-out rates) and potential selective reporting. The other 10 studies were judged to be at low risk of bias. A non-significant trend in favour of sulfasalazine over placebo for inducing remission was observed, with benefit confined mainly to patients with Crohn's colitis. Forty-five per cent (63/141) of sulfasalazine patients entered remission at 17-18 weeks compared to 29% (43/148) of placebo patients (RR 1.38, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.89, 2 studies). A GRADE analysis rated the overall quality of the evidence supporting this outcome as moderate due to sparse data (106 events). There was no difference between sulfasalazine and placebo in adverse event outcomes. Sulfasalazine was significantly less effective than corticosteroids and inferior to combination therapy with corticosteroids (RR 0.64, 95% CI 0.47 to 0.86, 1 study, 110 patients). Forty-three per cent (55/128) of sulfasalazine patients entered remission at 17 to 18 weeks compared to 60% (79/132) of corticosteroid patients (RR 0.68, 95% CI 0.51 to 0.91; 2 studies, 260 patients). A GRADE analysis rated the overall quality of the evidence supporting this outcome as moderate due to sparse data (134 events). Sulfasalazine patients experienced significantly fewer adverse events than corticosteroid patients (RR 0.43, 95% CI 0.22 to 0.82; 1 study, 159 patients). There was no difference between sulfasalazine and corticosteroids in serious adverse events or withdrawal due to adverse events. Olsalazine was less effective than placebo in a single trial (RR 0.36, 95% CI 0.18 to 0.71; 91 patients). Low dose mesalamine (1 to 2 g/day) was not superior to placebo for induction of remission. Twenty-three per cent (43/185) of low dose mesalamine patients entered remission at week 6 compared to 15% (18/117) of placebo patients (RR = 1.46, 95% CI 0.89 to 2.40; n = 302). A GRADE analysis indicated that the overall quality of the evidence supporting this outcome was low due to risk of bias (incomplete outcome data) and sparse data (61 events). There was no difference between low dose mesalamine and placebo in the proportion of patients who had adverse events (RR 1.33, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.96; 3 studies, 342 patients) or withdrew due to adverse events (RR 1.21, 95% CI 0.75 to 1.95; 3 studies, 342 patients). High dose controlled-release mesalamine (4 g/day) was not superior to placebo, inducing a clinically non significant reduction in CDAI (MD -19.8 points, 95% CI -46.2 to 6.7; 3 studies, 615 patients), and was also inferior to budesonide (RR 0.56, 95% CI 0.40 to 0.78; 1 study, 182 patients, GRADE = low). While high dose delayed-release mesalamine (3 to 4.5 g/day) was not superior to placebo for induction of remission (RR 2.02, 95% CI 0.75 to 5.45; 1 study, 38 patients, GRADE = very low), no significant difference in efficacy was found when compared to conventional corticosteroids (RR 1.04, 95% CI 0.79 to 1.36; 3 studies, 178 patients, GRADE = moderate) or budesonide (RR 0.89, 95% CI 0.76 to 1.05; 1 study, 307 patients, GRADE = moderate). However, these trials were limited by risk of bias (incomplete outcome data) and sparse data (small numbers of events). There was a lack of good quality clinical trials comparing sulfasalazine with other mesalamine formulations. Adverse events that were commonly reported included headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

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