Early thiopurine maintenance is associated with reduced proximal disease progression and colectomy rate in ulcerative colitis

Viraj C. Kariyawasam, Fadi H. Mourad, Nikola Mitrev, Sudarshan Paramsothy, Christian P. Selinger, Peter H. Katelaris, Brian Jones, Charles McDonald, Gavin Barr, Grace Chapman, James Cowlishaw, Jane Andrews, Rupert W. Leong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Thiopurines effectively maintain remission in ulcerative colitis patients. Whether early initiation of thiopurines after ulcerative colitis diagnosis decreases proximal disease progression and colectomy rates is not known.

Methods: We conducted a cohort study of ulcerative colitis subjects recruited from 1970 to 2009. Early thiopurine maintenance was defined as commencement of azathioprine or mercaptopurine within 5 years of diagnosis and maintenance for at least 6 months. Propensity score matching was conducted to correct for confounders influencing early thiopurine introduction. Outcomes of interest were colectomy rate and endoscopic proximal disease extension.

Results: 982 consecutive ulcerative colitis subjects (12 879 patient-years) were recruited with 116 requiring colectomy. Thiopurines initiation and maintenance increased over time with median time to thiopurine commencement decreasing from 23 years in the first decade to 2 years in the last decade (P < 0.0001). Multivariate analysis showed that early thiopurine maintenance significantly decreased the need for colectomy [hazard ratio, 0.13; 95% confidence interval (CI):0.03-0.55; P = 0.006]. The number of subjects needed to be treated to reduce one colectomy at 5 and 10 years was 18 (95% CI, 16- 36) and 12 (95% CI, 11-25). After propensity score matching, early thiopurine maintenance was significantly associated with decreased colectomy (hazard ratio, 0.10; 95% CI, 0.03-0.43; P = 0.002) and proximal progression of disease extent (hazard ratio, 0.26; 95% CI, 0.10-0.78; P = 0.015).

Conclusion: Early thiopurine maintenance for >6 months is significantly associated with reduced colectomy and proximal progression of disease extent in ulcerative colitis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1524-1532
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology
Issue number12
Early online date12 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


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