Conference Coverage

Sometimes medication is enough for a Crohn’s abscess



– If an intra-abdominal abscess in a recently diagnosed Crohn’s disease patient is less than 6 cm across with no downstream stenosis, involves only a short segment of bowel, and the patient has no perianal disease, then infliximab and azathioprine after drainage and antibiotics might be enough to heal it, according to Miguel Regueiro, MD, chair of the department of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic.

M. Alexander Otto/MDedge News

Dr. Miguel Regueiro

That will work in about 30% of patients who hit the mark; the rest will eventually need surgery, said Dr. Regueiro, a clinical researcher who has worked extensively with surgical GI patients and is also a coauthor on the American College of Gastroenterology 2018 Crohn’s disease guidelines (Am J Gastroenterol. 2018 Apr;113[4]:481-517).

Intra-abdominal abscesses are common in Crohn’s, usually from an inflammation-induced fistula or sinus in the small intestines that spills luminal contents into the abdominal cavity. Drainage and antibiotics are first line, but then there’s the question of who needs to go to the operating room and who doesn’t.

It has to do with “how much the hole in the intestines is actually reversible. Evidence of a stricture is of paramount importance. If you have a stricture below a fistula and prestenotic dilatation, that’s a high-pressure zone.” It’s a “fixed complication that, in my opinion, no medication is ever going to treat,” he said at the Gastroenterology Updates, IBD, Liver Disease Conference.

Most patients will need surgery, but for smaller abscesses in qualifying patients, medical treatment can work. “Infliximab is still probably the best medicine for fistulizing disease,” so Dr. Regueiro opts for that if patients haven’t been on it before, in combination with an immunomodulator, generally azathioprine at half the standard dose, to prevent patients from forming antibodies to the infliximab.

When patients do go to the operating room, there is a good chance they will end up with a temporary ostomy, and definitely so if the abscess can’t be drained completely to prevent spillage. The risk of dehiscence and other complications is too great for primary anastomosis.

“I mentally prepare my patients for that; I tell them up front. I never guarantee that they are not going to have an ostomy bag,” Dr. Regueiro said.

He also said abscess formation isn’t necessarily a sign the biologic patients were on before has failed, especially if they were only on it for 6 months or so. More likely, “the disease was too far gone at that point” for short-term treatment to have much of an effect.

So he’s often likely to continue patients on the same biologic after surgery. “We’ve done a lot of study on” this and have “actually found that” patients do well with the approach. He will switch treatment, however, if they otherwise no longer seem to respond to a biologic they have been taking a while, despite adequate serum levels.

There’s no need to delay surgery for patients on biologics. “If they get a biologic the day before, they can still go to the [operating room]. We are not seeing increased postop complications, infections, or wound dehiscence,” he said.

Dr. Regueiro generally restarts biologics 2-4 weeks after surgery, which is enough time to know if there is going to be a surgical complication but not so long that patients will have a Crohn’s relapse. He restarts the maintenance dose, as “it’s not necessary to reinduct patients after such a short break,” he said.

He also noted that opioids and steroids should be avoided with Crohn’s abscesses. Opioids increase the risk of ileus, and steroids the risk of sepsis.

Dr. Regueiro reported no relevant disclosures.

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