People whose Crohn's disease has been in remission for longer than four years can safely discontinue drug therapy. French researchers have found that the risk of relapse is no different after this time, whether the patient is on drugs or not. Crohn's is an inflammatory bowel disease.
Earlier research had suggested that patients would suffer an immediate relapse if they came off the drugs azathioprine or 6-mercaptopurine, but researchers from the Hopital Saint-Louis in Paris found little difference between the two groups, although those who came off the drugs were more likely to suffer a relapse if they were aged 26 or younger, were male and the period of remission was less than four years.
Those who stay on the drugs run the risk of suffering side effects. About 10 per cent of people with inflammatory bowel disease report some adverse reaction. In the research group, 18 of the 157 taking the drugs suffered leukopenia, a severe reduction of white blood cells, four had liver abnormalities, four suffered infections, and four more suffered cancerous malignancies (The Lancet, January 27, 1996).