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Large cohort study finds isotretinoin not associated with IBD



sotretinoin was not associated with a 1-year risk of incident inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in a large population-based cohort study that also found no significant association of oral tetracycline-class antibiotics with IBD – and a small but statistically significant association of acne itself with the inflammatory disorders that make up IBD.

For the study, senior author John S. Barbieri, MD, MBA, of the department of dermatology, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, and his colleagues used data from the TriNetX global research platform, which mines patient-level electronic medical record data from dozens of health care organizations, mainly in the United States. The network includes over 106 million patients. They looked at four cohorts: Patients without acne; those with acne but no current or prior use of systemic medications; those with acne managed with isotretinoin (and no prior use of oral tetracycline-class antibiotics); and those with acne managed with oral tetracycline-class antibiotics (and no exposure to isotretinoin).

Severe acne on a patient's jawline Ocskay Bence/

For the acne cohorts, the investigators captured first encounters with a diagnosis of acne and first prescriptions of interest. And studywide, they used propensity score matching to balance cohorts for age, sex, race, ethnicity, and combined oral contraceptive use.

“These data should provide more reassurance to patients and prescribers that isotretinoin does not appear to result in a meaningfully increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease,” they wrote in the study, published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

“These are important findings as isotretinoin is a valuable treatment for acne that can result in a durable remission of disease activity, prevent acne scarring, and reduce our overreliance on oral antibiotics for acne,” they added.

Indeed, dermatologist Jonathan S. Weiss, MD, who was not involved in the research and was asked to comment on the study, said that the findings “are reassuring given the large numbers of patients evaluated and treated.” The smallest cohort – the isotretinoin group – had over 11,000 patients, and the other cohorts had over 100,000 patients each, he said in an interview.

Jonathan S. Weiss, MD, dermatologist, Snellville, Ga.

Dr. Jonathan S. Weiss

“At this point, I’m not sure we need any other immediate information to feel comfortable using isotretinoin with respect to a potential to cause IBD, but it would be nice to see some longitudinal follow-up data for longer-term reassurance,” added Dr. Weiss, who practices in Snellville, Georgia, and is on the board of the directors of the American Acne and Rosacea Society.

The findings: Risk with acne

To assess the potential association between acne and IBD, the researchers identified more than 350,000 patients with acne managed without systemic medications, and propensity score matched them with patients who did not have acne. Altogether, their mean age was 22; 32.1% were male, and 59.6% were White.

Compared with the controls who did not have acne, they found a statistically significant association between acne and risk of incident IBD (odds ratio, 1.42; 95% confidence interval, 1.23-1.65) and an absolute risk difference of .04%. Separated into Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC), ORs were 1.56 and 1.62, respectively.


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