Video for Patients: Benefits and Risks of IBD Treatment & Risks of Untreated IBD

A recent study (NE Newman, KL Williams, BJ Zikmunde-Fisher, J Adler. JPGN 2020;70: e33-36) highlights work to communicate the benefits and risks of the treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) along with the risks of untreated IBD.  “We developed a simple video aid to illustrate competing risks associated with medications and underling disease in context of inflammatory bowel disease…Those who viewed the video aid had more realistic perceptions than those who did not view it.”

Here is a link to the ~13 minute online video: IBD: Risk of Disease and Treatments

Overall, the presentation is very helpful and thoughtful.  I think this would be an excellent overview for families.  For practitioners, a few points that could benefit from some nuance are noted below some screenshots.  It is worth stating that the authors had started this project a few years ago and some of the points below are related to more information that has emerged.

In the section of treatment benefits (above), the presentation suggests that thiopurines (azathioprine, 6-mercaptopurine) and methotrexate both are effective in about 50%; this is probably an overestimate; in addition, methotrexate as monotherapy is definitely less effective (if effective at all) for ulcerative colitis .  Also, it would be worthwhile to indicate that anti-TNF monotherapy with therapeutic drug monitoring may help achieve similar benefits as dual therapy.

In the section of colon cancer, the authors provide useful data that current treatments lower this risk substantially.  It is notable that more recent reports suggest that there have been improvements in the rates of colon cancer associated with IBD.

Overall, the section on lymphoma is very good.

In the section on other complications, the presentation suggests that there may be impaired wound-healing with anti-TNFs.  I think this risk is overstated in this slide. Also, I think the risk of severe infection with thiopurines is a little bit higher than stated; though, this can be mitigated with careful monitoring.

I think this summary slide could be improved by noting that the overall risk of serious cancers is likely lowered by treating IBD.  Since colon cancer is a fairly common cancer and IBD treatment reduces the risk, this likely outweighs the increased risk of other cancers (eg. lymphoma) which are much less common.

Another link to video:

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Disclaimer: This blog, gutsandgrowth, assumes no responsibility for any use or operation of any method, product, instruction, concept or idea contained in the material herein or for any injury or damage to persons or property (whether products liability, negligence or otherwise) resulting from such use or operation. These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician.  Because of rapid advances in the medical sciences, the gutsandgrowth blog cautions that independent verification should be made of diagnosis and drug dosages. The reader is solely responsible for the conduct of any suggested test or procedure.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition.

Should Methotrexate Be Used For Ulcerative Colitis?

A recent study (F Carbonnel et al. Gastroenterol, article in press; thanks to KT Park twitter feed for reference) with 111 patients provides more questions than answers.  It appears that methotrexate improved clinical remission but the overall difference is fairly small; the abstract is below.

My initial impression: Immunomodulators (including methotrexate and thiopurines) have some efficacy as monotherapy agents in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Their role as part of combination therapy (with anti-TNF agents) has been associated with improved outcomes but how long to use combination therapy and at what dosage is still being worked out.

Here’s the abstract and a link: Methotrexate is not Superior to Placebo in Inducing Steroid-free Remission, but Induces Steroid-free Clinical Remission in a Larger Proportion of Patients with Ulcerative Colitis

Background & Aims

Parenteral methotrexate is an effective treatment for patients with Crohn’s disease but has never been adequately evaluated in patients with ulcerative colitis (UC). We conducted a randomized controlled trial to determine its safety and efficacy in patients with steroid-dependent UC.


We performed a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to evaluate the efficacy of parenteral methotrexate (25 mg/week) in 111 patients with corticosteroid-dependent UC at 26 medical centers in Europe, from 2007 through 2013. Patients were given prednisone (10 to 40 mg/day) when the study began, and randomly assigned to groups (1:1) given placebo or methotrexate (intramuscularly or subcutaneously, 25 mg weekly) for 24 weeks. The primary endpoint was steroid-free remission (defined as a Mayo score ≤ 2 with no item > 1 and complete withdrawal of steroids) at week 16. Secondary endpoints included clinical remission (defined as a Mayo clinical subscore ≤ 2 with no item > 1) and endoscopic healing without steroids at weeks 16 and/or 24, remission without steroids at week 24, and remission at both weeks 16 and 24.


Steroid-free remission at week 16 was achieved by 19/60 patients given methotrexate (31.7%) and 10/51 patients given placebo (19.6%)—a difference of 12.1% (95% confidence interval [CI], –4.0% to 28.1%; P=.15). The proportions of patients in steroid-free clinical remission at week 16 were 41.7% in the methotrexate group and 23.5% in the placebo group, for a difference of 18.1% (95% CI, 1.1%–35.2%; P=.04). The proportions of patients with steroid-free endoscopic healing at week 16 were 35% in the methotrexate group and 25.5% in the placebo group—a difference of 9.5% (95% CI, –7.5% to 26.5%; P=.28). No differences were observed in other secondary endpoints. More patients receiving placebo discontinued the study because of adverse events (47.1%), mostly caused by UC, than patients receiving methotrexate (26.7%; P=.03). A higher proportion of patients in the methotrexate group had nausea and vomiting (21.7%) than in the placebo group (3.9%; P=.006).


In a randomized controlled trial, parenteral methotrexate was not superior to placebo for induction of steroid-free remission in patients with UC. However, methotrexate induced clinical remission without steroids in a significantly larger percentage of patients, resulting in fewer withdrawals from therapy due to active UC.

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Banning Mills

Banning Mills

‘Don’t Believe Our Study’

The message I inferred from a recent study (CA Siegel et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2015; 13: 2233-40) was to disregard their results which generally showed a lack of benefit of combination therapy (aka “concomitant immunomodulator” or dual therapy) compared with anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) monotherapy for Crohn’s disease.

Specifically, the authors state the following in their discussion:

Although our results challenge the clinical importance of combination therapy in this specific scenario, it is hard to ignore the preponderance of data to date relating to the pharmacokinetics of anti-TNF medications that support the approach of combination therapy over monotherapy.

Here’s the background for this study.  The authors performed a meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials (n=1601 subjects) to examine the question of whether continued use of immunomodulators (IMs) would be of benefit in patients who had failed monotherapy with IMs (“IM-experienced”).  The authors note that the SONIC study showed that combination therapy (infliximab and azathioprine) was more beneficial in patients who were IM-naive than monotherapy.  This meta-analysis included data from 3 anti-TNF agents: infliximab, adalimumab, and certolizumab.

Key findings:

  • Combination therapy was no more effective than monotherapy in inducing 6-month remission (odds ratio 1.02) or in maintaining a response (OR 1.53).
  • In subgroup analysis, there was a statistically-significant protective effect of baseline IM exposure versus no baseline IM exposure among those treated with infliximab.
  • Generally, combination therapy was not associated with any change in adverse reactions; however, combination therapy with infliximab had lower adverse events, which was driven by infusion reactions.

My take: This study indicates that combination therapy is likely helpful in IM-experienced patients who are starting infliximab and possibly not effective with the other anti-TNF agents.  The authors emphasize the need for well-designed, prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled trial for a definitive answer.  Until then, don’t believe their study.

Of interest: Recently I became aware of a college scholarship opportunity for young adults with IBD: Abbvie Scholarship Program.

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Yosemite National Park

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Another Look at “Step-up” IBD Therapy

Whether and how long to continue immunomodulators in patients who have undergone a “step-up” treatment to anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) therapy remains murky.  This is due to conflicting data from different patient cohorts, changing treatment trends, (e.g. use of drug monitoring to enhance anti-TNF therapy), and different endpoints. With regard to the latter, dual therapy has been clearly more effective in some landmark studies (eg. SONIC, UC SUCCESS); however, there have been ongoing concerns regarding long-term outcomes and adverse effects.

Will more studies help resolve this question? Perhaps, but not today.

A recent study (MT Osterman et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2015; 13: 1293-1301) examined a retrospective cohort of new users of anti-TNF therapy for Crohn’s disease in Medicare recipients.  The authors matched 381 combination with infliximab (ie. dual therapy) with 912 users of monotherapy. In addition, the authors did the same with adalimumab with 196 combination users and 505 monotherapy users. In their cohort, combination therapy occurred primarily as a “step-up” treatment after institution of thiopurine therapy.


  • Key outcome measures were unchanged: rates of surgery (hazard ratio [HR] 1.2, hospitalization HR 0.82, discontinuation of anti-TNF therapy or surgery HR 1.09, and serious infection HR 0.93
  • Opportunistic infections were increased in combination therapy with HR 2.64 and herpes zoster infection was increased with HR 3.16

Take-home message: This study suggests, at least in this elderly population, that once remission is achieved with anti-TNF therapy, discontinuation of thiopurine therapy or use of an alternative immunomodulator therapy may be worthwhile.  At the same time, definitive answers to these type of questions await carefully designed randomized trials.

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Why ImproveCareNow is Needed

A few recent articles make a strong argument for collaborative networks, like ImproveCareNow, to improve data collection to determine the most effective therapies.

  1. Kierkus J, et al. JPGN 2015; 60: 580-85.
  2. Audu GK, et al. JPGN 2015; 60: 586-91
  3. Dotson JL, et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2015; 21: 1109-14
  4. Saps M, et al. JPGN 2015; 60: 645-53.

A brief description of each study.

1. This study presented a multi-center randomized open-label trial of 99 pediatric patients with Crohn’s disease (CD) who were administered infliximab (IFX) along with an immunomodulator (azathioprine or methotrexate).  After a 10 week induction, 84 were randomized to either monotherapy for 54 weeks or dual therapy for 26 weeks. The authors did not find significant differences in response between the groups.  However, they reached a conclusion: “Twenty-six weeks likely represent (sic) the safe duration of combined IFX/immunomodulator therapy in our sample of pediatric patients with CD.”

2. The second study described three cases of chronic recurrent multifocal ostesomyelitis (CRMO) associated with inflammatory bowel disease.  They tried to identify all pediatric cases in UK in the last 10 years. (As an aside, I have treated one teenager with CRMO and ulcerative colitis.)

3. The third study is a retrospective single center of 30 patients with pediatric Crohn’s disease (CD) who developed intra-abdominal abscesses (IAA) over a 12-year period.  The authors note that this is “the largest single-center review of children and adolescents with CD and IAA to date.” Yet due to the small sample size, the study provides little guidance on this important medical problem; there were no predictors of successful medical or percutaneous drainage therapy.  In addition, with the increasing use of biologics, the authors note that “the issue of which patients will eventually require surgery is even less clear.” Changes in imaging (eg. MRE) and changes in medical management (eg. more enteral nutrition and less corticosteroids) are not discussed.

4. The fourth study is a comprehensive review of randomized placebo-controlled pharmacological clinical trials in children with functional abdominal pain disorders.  They found “no evidence to support the use of most commonly used drugs in children. Only 7 pharmacological RCTs on AP-FGIDs in children were found. Most studies were single center based and had a small sample size.  The methods and outcomes were heterogeneous…We found a considerable risk of bias in most studies…There is an urgent need for well-designed randomized clinical trials using age-appropriate validated outcome measures.”

Each of these studies makes a compelling argument for collaborative research networks.  The first study had a relatively small number of patients, short follow-up period, lack of blinding, and numerous methodological limitations.  How did the authors determine that 26 weeks was the time to stop dual therapy? Among adults with CD, a well-designed SONIC study (NEJM 2010; 362: 1383) showed the superiority of dual therapy during the study period.  In children, because of concerns about thiopurine safety, the best approach is still unclear. The second study identified only three patients despite examining a large population.  Similarly, the third study describes 30 patients with a common complication of CD but provides little insight.

The fourth study is a cautionary tale illustrating the lack of progress due to the absence of collaborative research.  Reports indicate a high prevalence of functional abdominal pain; one study indicated that abdominal pain affects “38% of school children weekly” (J Pediatr 2009; 154: 322-6).  In fact, studies on the high prevalence of this disorder dates back for 60 years (Apley, 1975; Apley & Hale, 1973; Apley & Naish, 1958). Despite the prevalence of this problem, the data for all of the treatments is poor.  The lack of progress in defining treatments for functional abdominal pain is multifactorial, including the following:

  • Cost: For many of the available treatments, there is not a financial incentive to conduct research.
  • Biomarker: lack of objective markers for improvement
  • Disease Stigma: many people attribute functional disorders as being due solely to psychological factors
  • Physician Champions: in pediatric gastroenterology, it took concerted physician efforts over many years to develop ImproveCareNow.  Similar physician champions would be needed to improve the outcomes for children with functional disorders

Bottomline: While ImproveCareNow has a lot of work ahead including improving data reliability and ascertaining accurate outcome measures, I think the effort is forward-thinking and will make a difference in understanding and treating children with IBD.  ImproveCareNow has more than 600 participating pediatric gastroenterologists and more than 20,000 patients. What I would like to see is a sister network to address the morbidity from functional disorders so that in 60 years (or sooner), we will be better equipped to treat children with abdominal pain that is not due to IBD.

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Fox Theater

Fox Theater

Don’t be Fooled About Withdrawing Immunomodulator Cotherapy -Look Past the Headline

The coverage on a recent study (Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2015: 13(3): 514-521.e4suggests that it should be fine to stop immunomodulator co-therapy.  I recommend reading the entire study (or at least this blog post)–you will probably come to a different conclusion.

“The addition of immunomodulators increases the efficacy of maintenance therapy with infliximab for up to one year in patients with Crohn’s disease who have not been previously treated with immunomodulators. However, there are questions about the effect of withdrawing immunomodulator therapy from these patients. David Drobne and colleagues studied the effects of treatment with infliximab and immunomodulators (co-treatment) and then immunomodulator withdrawal on long-term outcomes of patients, as well as trough levels of infliximab and formation of anti-infliximab antibodies (ATI). Reporting in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, they find that, in a retrospective analysis, withdrawal of immunomodulators after at least six months (median, 13 months) of co-treatment with infliximab does not reduce the trough levels of infliximab in patients with Crohn’s disease. Detectable trough levels of infliximab at the time of immunomodulator withdrawal are associated with long-term response.”

Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2015: 13(3): 514-521.e4

Some additional details:

This was a retrospective open-label cohort study with 223 patients and median followup of 34 months. At baseline, 65 received infliximab (IFX) monotherapy and 158  received co-therapy with an immunomodulator (46 methotrexate, 112 thiopurine).  Immunomodulators were withdrawn “only in patients with durable response (ongoing clinical benefit with lasting disease control with low C-reactive protein [CRP] [below 10 mg/L]).”  Among the 158 on co-therapy, 117 reached a durable response and had withdrawal of immunomodulator after >6 months of combination therapy (median time 13 months).

Key findings:

  • At baseline, co-therapy patients, compared to monotherapy patients, had higher IFX trough levels (adjusted mean increase of 1.44-fold) and lower likelihood of antibodies to infliximab (ATI): 35/158 (22%) compared with 25/65 (38%), P=.01.
  • When immunomodulator was withdrawn, IFX levels remained stable: before 3.2 mcg/mL compared with after 3.7 mcg/mL. However, 45 of 117 (38%) required increasing doses of IFX and 21 of 117 (18%) discontinued IFX.
  • Trough levels of IFX and CRP  were most strongly associated with response to IFX dosing on monotherapy.
  • “Only 9 of 74 patients (12%) with detectable IFX trough levels at the time of immunomodulator withdrawal developed undetectable IFX trough levels during the subsequent follow-up.”
  • None of the 27 patients with IFX trough level >5 mcg/mL at time of immunomodulator withdrawal lost response to IFX during median follow-up of 29 months.

Though the headlines covering this article have suggested that IFX levels will stay stable when immunomodulators are withdrawn after >6 months, the authors proposed algorithm only recommends withdrawal for those with IFX trough level >5 mcg/mL.  In addition, the data showed that a large number of patients required dose escalation and/or lost detectable IFX levels. Despite their proposed algorithm to withdraw in this small group, the authors further backtrack in their conclusion:  “a prospective parallel group trial during a period of 5-10 years in a large group of patients is required to ascertain the real long-term benefit to risk ratio of continuing combined infliximab and immunomodulator treatment.”

Bottomline: If a patient is doing well, withdrawing immunomodulator co-therapy still has risks. I worry that the misleading reporting of this article will result in detrimental outcomes.

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Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition.


Methotrexate Dosing in Dual Therapy

A recent retrospective study (DOI: first published online: 23 January 2015 -reference from KT Park’s twitter feed) has suggested that high-dose methotrexate (MTX) (15-25 mg/week) is more effective than low-dose MTX (≤12.5 mg/week) as part of dual therapy for inflammatory bowel disease.

Here’s the abstract: Optimal Doses of Methotrexate

Background and Aims: Methotrexate is sometimes used as part of combination therapy for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), however the optimal MTX dose for combination therapy has not been established. This study compared the efficacy of lower dose and higher dose methotrexate with anti-TNF therapy among IBD patients.

Methods: Retrospective chart review was performed of 88 IBD patients at our center between 2010-2013. Low-dose methotrexate was defined as ≤ 12.5mg/week and high-dose methotrexate as 15-25mg/week. Patients who met the criteria for clinical remission (Harvey-Bradshaw Index ≤ 4, Simple Clinical Colitis Activity Index ≤ 2) at baseline were followed for up to 42 months. Chart review occurred in six-month intervals. The primary outcome was consecutive months in remission prior to relapse. Secondary outcomes included other indicators of worsening disease (endoscopic inflammation, steroid use, therapy escalation/addition, or surgery) and adverse events. Regression analysis and Kaplan-Meier survival analysis were completed.

Results: We identified 73 (83%) dual-therapy patients, of which 32 low-dose and 14 high-dose individuals achieved remission. When compared with high-dose patients, low-dose patients were more likely to relapse (log-rank test, P<0.01). Secondary indicators of worsening disease occurred during 34.4% of low-dose review periods and 31.4% of High-dose review periods (P=0.67). 3/52 (6%) low-dose patients and 3/21 (14%) high-dose patients (P=0.34) discontinued methotrexate therapy due to adverse events.

Conclusions: When combined with anti-TNF therapy, methotrexate at doses of >12.5mg/week were more effective at maintaining clinical remission than lower doses. These findings will guide management of combination therapy in IBD patients.

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