Ulcerative colitis is a chronic, inflammatory disease of the rectum and large intestine, also called the colon. Ongoing inflammation results in sores and ulcers of the intestinal lining. The disease is marked by episodes of bloody diarrhea. Drug treatment is aimed at controlling symptoms through reducing inflammation and by limiting relapses and flare-ups of the condition.
For mild to moderate symptoms, drugs called aminosalicylates, or 5-aminosalicylic acids, are often used as the first line of treatment, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. These medications are also used in cases of relapsed disease. Aminosalicylates can be given as either oral or rectal formulations. Mesalamine, sulfasalazine, olsalazine and balsalazide are all aminosalicylates used to reduce inflammation, thereby reducing bouts of diarrhea and bleeding.
Steroid drugs such as prednisone and methylprednisolone reduce inflammation in the intestinal tract by suppressing the immune system. They can be taken as oral, rectal or intravenous medications. Steroids can cause potentially serious side effects including increased risk of developing an infection, bone thinning, high blood pressure and diabetes. Because these drugs carry significant risks, steroids are generally used for only short-term treatment of moderate to severe ulcerative colitis.
Infliximab is the most recent drug to be used in the treatment of ulcerative colitis. This drug is a type of antibody that attaches to an inflammatory protein called tumor necrosis factor alpha, or TNF-alpha, according to RxList.com. This inhibits the activity of TNF-alpha, lowering the amount of inflammation in the body and allowing the intestinal lining to heal. Infliximab is given as an intravenous treatment over a period of hours. The drug is used for cases of moderate to severe disease when other drugs fail.
Sometimes, people with severe disease become dependent on steroids in an attempt to control symptoms. Immune modifying drugs can help to reduce the need for steroids. These drugs may also be used when aminosalicylate and steroid therapies don’t work. Immune modifiers relieve the inflammation of ulcerative colitis and include the drugs azathrioprone, methotrexate, 6-Murcapto Purine, and cyclosporin A. These medications can take up to several months to become effective, reports the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.
Antibiotics, including ciprofloxacin and metronidazole, are sometimes used to treat infections associated with ulcerative colitis. They also to help control symptoms of diarrhea and bleeding.
About this Author
Kalli Harrison is a naturopathic physician living in Portland, Ore. She graduated from National College of Naturopathic Medicine in the year 2000, and also holds a degree as a medical laboratory technician. Dr. Harrison has been writing health and medical information for patients and clients for more than 10 years.