Refractory distal ulcerative colitis: Is proctocolectomy always necessary?

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Refractory distal ulcerative colitis (RDUC) is defined as persistence of symptoms caused by endoscopically proven colonic inflammation located at the rectum or left colon despite oral/topical steroids and 5-ASA. RDUC affects a small subset of patients and is associated with chronic disabling symptoms and increased social/medical costs. Moreover, patients with long-standing ulcerative colitis (UC) carry an elevated risk of developing colorectal cancer and colonic mucosa high-grade dysplasia. Alternative medical strategies in steroid refractory disease are unlikely to provide durable remission in all patients, carry potential severe side effects and, as immunosuppressants, the risk of other neoplasms, and may increase the short-term complication rate when surgery is finally required. Restorative proctocolectomy with ileal pouch-anal anastomosis (RP-IPAA) allows the complete removal of the diseased rectum and colon, virtually eliminating the risk of malignant transformation and reestablishing intestinal continuity with continence preservation. Since the introduction of this surgical procedure, morbidity and mortality rates have been drastically reduced. Despite the still notable rate of surgical complications, long-term quality of life assessment has shown excellent results in nearly all patients who have undergone RP-IPAA, comparing well with the general population. Furthermore, when performed for distal UC, RP-IPAA produces similar surgical outcomes with respect to pancolitis. In conclusion, RP-IPAA should always be considered in patients with RDUC, and multidisciplinary counseling should provide patients clear information about the advantages of surgery and possible complications as well as the chance to achieve disease remission with medical therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-115
Number of pages6
JournalDigestive Diseases
Publication statusPublished - Dec 25 2014


  • Cancer risk
  • Ileal pouch-anal anastomosis
  • Medical therapy
  • Refractory distal ulcerative colitis
  • Restorative proctocolectomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology
  • Medicine(all)


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