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Dr. Holland

Education symposium in March 2020 in Chicago

Great opportunity to learn more about Crohn’s and Colitis!

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (formerly CCFA or Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America) is divided into statewide chapters. The Illinois Chapter has been a well respoected chapter and historically has run some of the best educational programs in the country for years.

The next Educational Symposium is coming in 2020, specifically March 14, 2020. It will be held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare hotel. This is in Rosemont, a Chicago Suburb next to O’Hare.

There are two symposiums running in parallel: A patient centered symposium and a medical professional symposium.

Annual Patient/Professional Education Symposium
Hyatt Regency O’Hare
9300 W Bryn Mawr Ave
Rosemont, IL 60018

To register click on this link to the Registration Website. But this is a tease, you’ll have to sign up in January 2020 when the registration information will be available.

In the mean time, the Carol Fisher chapter has a load of activities to articipate in. Check out their website!

Health Recommendations for IBD Patients

Patients with Crohn’s and Colitis need their doctors when they are sick, but what should be done when they are well?

So, you have IBD, either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Your doctor has worked with you to deal with your underlying disease. What should you do between flares of disease and long term?

Gastroenterologists think of their patients in several ways. One major way to think about our patients is what are we doing for treatment of the disease and what are we doing for general medical care. Gastroenterologists are specialists in digestive disease. But all gastroenterologists first are trained in internal medicine before getting the additional training to become a gastroenterologist.

An article in the April 2019 issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology had a nice review of preventive care for patients with IBD. The recommendations fall into two broad categories: Screening Recommendations and Recommendations for follow up for certain drugs.

Screening Recommendations

Screenings are done to prevent certain problems that affect IBD patients more often related to risks due to the underlying disease and due to treatments.

Immunizations in IBD include the usual recommendations. Special attention is due to Influenza, pneumonia, and shingles. Flu shots with injected vaccine is recommended. The live virus nasal vaccine should be avoided. Pneumococcal vaccine should be given to all IBD patients on immunosuppression, shich is pretty much everything except mesalamine related drugs. Shingles vaccine is recommended for IBD patients over age 50. All IBD patients should get the HPV vaccine.

Skin cancer risk is increased in individuals on Anti-TNF drugs, azathioprine, 6-MP, and tofacitinib. Routine use of sunscreen and protective colthing is advised. Acute sunburn is more common on steroids as well, due to photosensitization. Consultation with a dermatologist is suggested.

Exercise is recommended for all patients to decrease the risk of osteoporosis. Calcium and Vitamin D should be checked and supplemented as appropriate. The paper says that about 1000 IU of vitamin D is needed. I believe the paper is incorrect here. Vitamin D is usually low in patients and a dose of 5000 IU of cholecalciferol is needed to keep the level over 4000 ng/dl in most patients.

Patients have an increased risk of colon cancer. Colonosocpy is recommeded in patients with over 30% of their colons involved with IBD after 8 years of disease or sooner if other family risk factors are present. If sclerosing cholangitis is present then colonoscopy should be done as soon as practicable.

Women on immunosupression should get yearly PAP smears.

Patients on steroids for more than 3 months should get a DEXA scan for checking bone mineral density. (Budesonide and rectal steroids are not as risky.)

Recommendations for follow up for certain drugs

Certain drugs need specific follow ups.

Drug Tests Notes
MesalamineCBC
Creatinine
UA
Allergic nephritis can develop. Check every 3-6 months.
ThiopurinesCBC
LFTs
Check TPMT before starting if available to identify patients.
MethotrexateCBC
Creatinine
LFTs
At start, weeks 2, 4, 8 then every 1-3 months. Give folic acid. Chest x-ray at 6-12 months.
TofacitinibCBC
LFTs
Lipid Panel
TB test
Hepatitis B
Check labs every 3 months. Check lipid panel at 4-6 months. Check TB test at start and 2 months into treatment. Get Hepatitis B tests before starting.
BiologicsCBC
Creatinine
LFTs
TB test
Hepatitis B
Get TB and hepatitis B tests before start. Check for TB twice a year in high risk patients. Get Hepatitis B tests before starting.

Final Thoughts

You can bring this to your doctor or send the reference to the article that I have provided below. Also, do your part and show up to see your doctor. He can’t do his part if you don’t do your’s!

References

  • Weaver KN1, Long MD2. Preventive Medicine in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019 Apr;17(5):824-828. PMID: 30529728.

Probiotics May Change Without Your Knowing

Readily available in stores and pharmacies, probiotics are a popular product that people take thinking they are good for your health. But if you buy a product you should expect it to remain unchanged over time. A recent article discusses the problem that probiotics are not regulated.

Probiotics are a polular product used by millions and big business, too. These products promise improved health, but at the same time don’t make health claims. I have a real problem with these products, because the cost my patients money but I don’t see them gettting benefit.

A major problem I see is that since they come in pill form people imagine they are like medical pills. However, each brand has different bacteria or groups of bacteria. We don’t know if probiotics work due to the surface structures on the germs or if there are metabolites that bacteria make that affect health, so it isn’t relly even known if the probiotics need to be alive or dead.

Another major problem is you don’t know what you’re getting even from time to time that you get a probiotic. It’s been known that in the growing of bacteria the bacteria can change over time. An article in by Claudio de Simone from the University of L ‘Aquila published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology(1) is worth a read as it discusses a number of points regarding the problem of probiotics not being regulated.

The following snippet from the article is from figure 2 in the article. Phosphatidylglycerols are an important part of bacterial cell membranes and the ratios of these are characteristic of different types of bacteria. If two bacteria are the same their PG ratios will be the same. In this example a probiotic was analyzed that was sold in the US and Italy. As can be seen, the Italian version of the probiotic had a different PG content then the US version, even though thew were sold as the same product.



One has to conclude that these products have different bacteria in them. It is a concern that may probotic products have differing bacteial content from year to year or batch to batch.

Another important point is that with many IBD patients having leaky gut that these probiotics are introducing to new bacteria in patients who could have those bacteria wander across their intestinal surface into the tissues. Given that we don’t have good safety data in IBD patients with this products and that the products also change what is in them over time I wouln’t recommend these products to patients.

References

  • de Simone C1. The Unregulated Probiotic Market. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019 Apr;17(5):809-817. PMID: 29378309.

Anti-TNF drugs in ulcerative colitis may not last forever

The duration of benefit of Anti-TNF drugs for ulcerative colitis is not well understood, This article shows about 3 years of benefit on average with some UC patients getting 7 years or more of a response.

When Remicade came out it was a breakthrough in treatment for patients with Crohn’s disease. Eventually it came to be recognized as a treatment for Ulcerative Colitis as well. We went through a time of using it while on mesalamine and azathioprine, then just Remicade alone, now back to with azathioprine at low dose, and perhaps now with mesalamine again.

Aside from how to best administer anti-TNF drugs it was found that patient’s immune systems could make antibodies against them. After all, the drugs like Remicade (infliximab) and Humira (adalimumab) are themselves antibodies and therefor are proteins. The patients’ immune systems see these as foreign proteins and therefor can develop an immune reaction against them. Infliximab and adalimumab were designed to minimize immugenicity. (Immunogenicity is the word that describes no stimulating something is to the immune system). However, the immune system responds very well to foreign substances. An immune reaction often develops.

Inflammatory bowel diseases are also the result of many aspects of the immune system driving a reaction. While Tumor Necrosis Factor is one of the control proteins of the immune system it is not the only one. A patient may have multiple drivers of their disease in addition to TNF. This probably explains why only about half of patients respond to Remicade in the first place.

Once a patient responds and is on infliximab or adalimumab will it work forever? Gastroenterologists find that after a few years patients may stop responding. Tests can be done to see if antibodies are forming or if the concentration of the drug is low. But sometimes the effectiveness of anti-TNF drugs just wanes.

Crohn’s patients have been treated the longest, since the anti-TNF drugs were first used in them. We see very long duration benefits of anti-TNF drugs in many patients with Crohn’s. A number of studies have looked at the time course of response in Crohn’s disease.

Ulcerative colitis has been treated with anti-TNF drugs for a lesser number of years, so there are fewer articles obout the effectiveness of anti-TNF drugs in ulcerative colitis. An article in IBD Journal, Treatment Persistence of Infliximab versus adalimumab in Ulcerative colitis: a 16 year single-center experience[1], addresses the issue.

In this study researchers at the Nancy University Hospital in in Nancy, France reported on the results of treatment of ulcerative colitis patients that had been on long term therapy for at least 6 months. They selected patients who were treated for UC with either infliximab or adalimumab. Patients treated just for pouchitis were not included and neither were patients who had just gotten intermittent doses.

They found 160 UC patients that fit the definition of chronic use of and anti-TNF for over 6 months. In that group 43 patients had started on one of infliximab or adalimumab and swithced to the other. On average, patients responded for about 3 years (3.1 years for infliximab and 2.1 years for adamimumab. Patients that were also on mesalamine drugs had a longer duration of response.

The telling graphic from the study is the analysis of time to failure of anti-TNF treatment, figure 2 in the article.

The label on the vertical axis “Survival Probability” means the proportion of patients for whom the anti-TNF drug continued to work, not time to death. The label could better have been “Proportion of patients still in remissiokn.” The number at the top is 1, meaning 100%.

Looking at the graph everyone was good for a few months, but then the drop-off is evident. While the average time of benefit was about 3 years, that includes the people with long term benefit. So for infliximab about half of individuals lost benefit at 2.3 years, and about 25% of patients had benefit that exceeded 10 years. For adalimumab, about half of individuals lost benefit at 1.7 years, but, similar to infliximab, about 25% had long term benefit.

This sort of data is very helpful in deciding on how to use anti-TNF medications. The study only looks at infliximab and adalimumab. Golimumab, certolizumab were not included, but those drugs are not as commonly used as infliximab and adalimumab in the treatment of UC.

The study is from an academic medical center, where patients are referred from the community, often sicker and less responsive than patients in the community. Thus, results may be worse than seen in community centers.

Reference:
1. Lieven Pouillon, Cédric Baumann, Hélène Rousseau, Myriam Choukour, Charlotte Andrianjafy, Silvio Danese, Laurent Peyrin-Biroulet, Treatment Persistence of Infliximab Versus Adalimumab in Ulcerative Colitis: A 16-Year Single-Center Experience, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Volume 25, Issue 5, May 2019, Pages 945–954, https://doi.org/10.1093/ibd/izy322

A review of new drugs for treatment of IBD

Perhaps you’re getting confused by all the medications that are now available for treating IBD. A recent article in IBD discusses the drugs by groups.

Year ago all we had to treat IBD was prednisone. Sulfasalazine ushered in the era of mesalamine drugs. Azathioprine was available as well. Then it got interesting. Our colleagues in immunology research looked into what drove the immune response and identified cachexin, also known as Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha, or TNF-α for short, as a major signaling protein in immune responses. cA2 was an antibody directed against TNF-α, which was shown to be useful in Crohn’s. Soon named Infliximab, the antibody revolutionized treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.

But our immunology colleagues have not been idle. The immune response control system has ben studied for years now, and additional targets ahve been identified in the immune system. We now have more drugs than we could have dreamed of years ago for the treatment of IBD.

A recent review [1] published in IBD Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, a journal of the Crohn’s nd Colitis foundation has provided a nice summary of some current and new drugs for use in IBD. It’s worth a read. I’m providing some highlights here.

First off, the graphic on the cover of IBD is awesome. The immune system is complex, and a cartoon such as was on the cover is very helpful in putting a model in the readers head. I took this diagram off the cover of the issue of IBD. I really like the diagram. You can see that it shows a number of the molecules that are involved in the immune system of IBD.

Anti-adhesion agents

First mentioned in the review are the Anti-adhesion agents. You see, for the immune system to deliver immune cells to that are of inflammation, the cells of the immune system have to migrate to the area on inflammation. I recall stunning videos of immune cells whipping around in the vascular system, with cells stiopping in surreal instantaneity at the place they need to migrate, and then migrate through the wall of the blood vessel to the are of inflammation. If you can stop cells from finding where they need to go, the immune cells will not get to their targets and an inflammatory resposnse can be prevented. Natalizumab was the first drug in category to come to clinical practice. A protein on the surface of immune cels, α4β7/α4β1, binds to a structure named MAdCAM-1 and a structure on the inner surface of blood vessels (VCAM-1 – Vascular Cell Adhesion Molecule-1). Natalizumab is an antobody that binds to α4β7/α4β1, shich bloks cells from binding to blood vessel linings, thus preventing an immune response.

Regretably, natalizumab has been associated with the develoopment of Progressive Multifocal Leucoencephalopathy, a dangerouse disease caused by reactivation of infection by the JC virus, a not uncommon infection that the immune system usually keeps under control.

This is an example of how, even though we have a promising new drug, surprises appear when we block the immune system, allowing an infection that stays controlled by the immune system.

Vedolizumab is another anti adhesion drug. This antobody just blocks the α4β7 protein. Progressive Multifocal Leucoencephalopathy does not seem to occur with this drug. The review nicely describes the studies that support the use of Vedolizumab.

The review describes a drug under study, Etrolizumab, which is directed against the β7 molecule, so it is effective in interfering with several of the proteins that are involved with cell binding to surfaces.

AJM300 is another drug under study, but is special because it is not an antibody. It is a small molecule which blocks immune cell binding to the MAdCAM-1 and VCAM-1 proteins. This is a welcome new agent, as it can be taken as a pill rather than an injection, which is needed by antibodies. Time will tell what adverse reactions happen. Certainly, the incidence of progressive multifocal leucoencephalopathy will need to be watched for, since that problem was seen with natalizumab.

Anti-interleukin Inhibitors

Aside from TNF-α, other immune proteins are involved in the cascade of immune reactions that drive inflammatory bowel disease. IL-2, IL-12, IL-23 are all important. While prednisone blocks IL-2, the drug ustekinumab blocks IL12 and IL-20. It is effective in Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.

Risankizubmab is under development. It looks like it will also be effective in Crohn’s disease.

JAK/STAT inhibitors

In the immune system a number of chemicals are important in regulation of the immune system besides the interleukins. That is because the proteins that regulate the immune system interact with cells which then elaborate internal chemicals in response to stimulation by the interleukins. One such system is the JAK/STAT proteins. If those cellular signalling systems can be blocked then the immune system can be shut down in another way.

Tofacitinib is currently on the market, and works by blocking the JAK system. It works in Psoriasis and Ulcerative Colitis. It is a small molecule, and taken as a pill rather than an injection.

Filgotinib also blocks the JAK system, but works better in Crohn’s disease. It is currently under investigation.

Spingosine-1-phosphate receptor modulators

The review gives short shrift to this class of immun modulators, and honestly, I need to brush up on this system to tell more about what it does in the body. A drug, Ozamimodh is a small moledule orally administered It is in development and is promising for Ulcerative Colitis.

Stem Cell Therapy for perianal Crohn’s Disease

The review describes the injection of stem cells for treatment of perianal fistulas. As the review states, it isn’t known how stem cells work. These are very experimental treatments. The therapy advertised which uses cells from the stems of plants are not stem cells in the sense of stem cells from humans and have nothing to do with this.

Conclusion

This review looks over the new therapies of Anti-adhesion agents, Anti-interleukin Inhibitors, JAK/STAT inhibitors, Spingosine-1-phosphate receptor modulators, and Stem Cell Therapy. While it is written fo rthe professional, a non-professional can glean the complexity of the immune system and the exciting new options for treatment that the future protends. I’d quibble with the term Anti-interleukin Inhibitors since Anti-interleukin antibodies would be a better term. But overall the paper does describe new treatments that are available and others that will be available in the future.

Reference:

1 – A State-of-the-Art Review of New and Emerging Therapies for the Treatment of IBD. Chudy-Onwugaje KO, Christian KE, Farraye FA, Cross RK. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2019 Apr 11;25(5):820-830.

A lower cost option for prescribing oral vancomycin

I do get irritated by some things I see happening to IBD patients. There is an infectious condition called Clostridium difficile colitis which can be treated with antibiotics. One antibiotic, vancomycin, is very expensive when used in the capsule formulation, but inexpensive when supplied as a solution.

Vancomycin is a treatment for C. Difficile colitis, but can it be obtained for less than $1000?

I had a patient, recently, who is uninsured who was treated for C. difficile colitis. I was saddened to hear that she was given a prescripiton for oral vancomycin capsules. If there is one way to sour a self-pay patient on modern medicine it is to prescribe off patent medications in an expensive formulation. I have to say I learned this trick a long time ago from a coleague. I regret I don’t recall who told me, but it saves thousands of dollars.

Do I exagerate? No! Vancomycin capsules for a 10 day course of 250 mg four times a day cost upwards of $1000? So, how do you save money? Get a pharmacist to dispense the solution used for IV administration.

IV vancomycin has been available for years for about $15 for a 10 gram dose. That is just the amount needed for an oral course of therapy. Just have the pharmacist mix up the following:

Vancomycin HCl 10 g inj.1 vial
Saccharin Sodium0.4 g
Stevia0.4 g
Glycerin80 ml
Raspberry concentrate0.2 ml
Distilled waterqs 200 ml

This has a stability of 14 days if refrigerated. She has Crohn’s disease and has recurrent C. diff which I found upon scoping her, today. This script will cost about $50-$80, saving her about $900 to $1000. She thinks I’m great for having found this cheaper alternative. Next step may be a stool transplant (which might cure her Crohn’s!).

I found this recipe for compounding Vancomycin at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists web site. The internet is a wonderful place, and Google serves us well. The recent script I wrote left out the Stevia, and just ordered “flavor, prn”, leaving that to the judgement of the pharmacist. Don’t fear writing a compounding prescription. Pharmacists are our friends, and they like the chance to provide this service to our patients.

Patients Can Have Feelings of Loss When IBD Improves

Patients will often improve. Yes, really, it does happen! It is interesting that getting better can be a type of loss. The patient improves, then loses their routine, and the physician loses a patient with which he was having regular followup. I relate an episode of arecent loss such as this.

The following is a post that was in the IBDList. Tom, the list moderator, added the comment at the end set off by brackets. The IBDList is a very valuable Maillist server for people interested in Crohn’s and colitis.If you like the sort of stuff you see here you would like to get the IBDList.

I had an interesting emotional response recently with a patient who was put into remission by surgery. This woman had her first attack of Crohn’s about a year ago. She did well with steroids, almost came off prednisone after a slow taper, then went back on with a flare. On attempting to re-taper she had another flare that turned into abscess. Surgery was required. TheCrohn’s diseased tissue was very thickened, and perhaps it would never have healed with medical treatment.

I had seen her about once ever month or every other month during this time and I got to know her well. When she came in for the post op check-up she was off all her medications and doing very well, eating anything she wanted, all the visible steroid effects gone. While I should have been happy that she would not have to see me anymore, I found myself somewhat sad. It was feeling the feeling of loss.

Clearly what was happening was that the patient and I had been having success at dealing with the Crohn’s, and much of the satisfaction for me was the continued followup and advice that kept her going and the improvement she had following my advice. Knowing that I would not have to do that any longer was, I think, the basis for this. I think another aspect was that she came to surgery without my having given the advice. Having a patient go sour is disconcerting to the physician (certainly more so to the patient),but there is something of a feeling of “how dare that Crohn’s disease get worse just as I was dealing with it.” Part of GI training is to have the knowledge that surgery is not an evil to be avoided, but rather a tool to be used as needed.

I recall a post Tom put up on the IBDList a while back about having a feeling of loss when in remission from IBD. The loss was in not doing the dietary restrictions and other things that had become routine, or familiar, to daily life.

Oh, the reason I put this up is that this is a list about IBD, living with it, and treatment of it. While I don’t think there is anything in this post that will affect what anybody does, it is the case that IBD affects many people besides the patient, and the physician is one of them.

Stephen Holland, M.D.

[ Thanks for an interesting perspective. I know that when a GI I had been seeing for a number of years retired, I missed him as a person as much as missing the physician. I never considered that he also might have feelings of the loss of day-to-day contact with his set of patients.

Diabetics these days often have a team of professionals helping them with their disease since it affects so many areas of physical, emotional and spiritual life. In a way it is too bad that the medical community often doesn’t take a more all-encompassing approach to diseases such as IBD that are influenced by more than just the steroids or sulfa drugs. Maybe one day the insurance companies will realize that a combination of treatments, along with a healthy look at eastern or alternative medications and procedure scan actually be cheaper than the most common methods of symptom-treatmen tor emergency-care medicine. -tom]

Probiotic Studied in Pouchitis

Probiotic is a term that refers to good bacteria that are given to fight disease. Whatever the merits of the term probiotic, we finally have a study that was well done. The study publishedin the journal Gastroenterology was very clear: in a group of patients with the problem of pouchitis there was clear benefit.

I think those are excellent examples of what probiotics have the potential to do. I agree, the data on C. diff colitis looks most compelling to date. The editorial in Gastro this month was prompted by a study that was in the same issue, relating to the use of probiotics in pouchitis, the problem of inflammation in the small intestinal pouch created during ileoanal anastamosis after removal of the colon for ulcerative colitis. To put the horse before the cart, review of the article (by Gionchetti et. al. Oral Bacteriotherapy as maintenance treatment in patients with chronic pouchitis: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial) would seem in order.

The study looked at 40 patients with pouchitis all of whom were in remission on drugs. The drugs were then stopped and the 40 patients were then either treated with placebo (maize starch) or a bacterial product called VSL#3 taken twice a day continuously. The trial followed these patients for up to 9 months. In the placebo treated group patients started having relapses after a month, and then all 20 patients eventually relapsed over the next three months, about 2 relapsing each week. In the VSL#3 arm of the study 3 of the 40 patients had relapse over 9 months. Bacteriological evaluation showed that the germs in the stool changed over time with more bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, and strep. salivarius present. The did not subspeciate the bifidobacteria or lactobacilli, however. 

This is the first paper I have seen on bacterial supplementation which is randomized and controlled. As such, it porvides usable data upon which to make medical recommendations. The product used in this trial was shown to provide protection from relapse in the subgroup of patients with pouchitis in the setting of ileoanal anastamosis with chronic pouchitis who had been well controlled on drugs. 85% of patients had a prolonged benefit, compared to 0% on placebo. 

This study provides useful information because it is a controlled study, the patient groups are well described, and sufficient detail is provided to understand the expected benefits of the treatment. The study applies to those with pouchitis who were in remission on medications who took VSL#3. It shows that the bacterial treatment is almost as good as antibiotic treatment for maintenance of remission of pouchitis. (15% failure rate for bacteria versus 5% for antibiotics) The control group was interesting. Maize starch may not have been the best choice of starch. Maize contains certain types of starches that are not digestible by amylase. This means that patients on Maize starch will deliver carbohydrates to the lower intestine, or to the pouch in this case, which could potentially aggravate the pouchitis. Had they used rice starch this would not have been the case. However, the patients selected for the study were patients who were having a lot of relapses anyway.

VSL#3 is an unusual probiotic. It is comprised of 8 different bacteria. Also, they are at very high concentrations and have been freeze-dried. In animal and in-vitro studies single strain mixtures are not able to effectivly change the flora already present in the gut. Also, old studies of germ free animals show that putting in a single germ is generally lethal, but that a mixture of germs is beneficial. These results were the basis for formulating a mixed bacteria supplement. 

These issues raise doubts as to whether single strain bacteria would be as effective as multi strain mixtures. Two studies in ulcerative colitis in the past have shown no benefit with a single strain, but an open label trial suggests there may be some benefit to VSL#3 in UC.

Bacteria are very different from one another, and the diseases Crohn’s, UC, pouchitis, and c. difficile colitis are very different as well. While this mixture now has been shown to work in pouchitis much more needs to be done to determine how well other probiotics work in this and other diseases.

Sartor’s editorial was interesting. After reviewing the study he discussed other studies of probiotics. A strain of E. coli has been shown to have the effectivness of low dose masalamine in maintaining remission in UC. However, there are very few studies of benefits of probiotics. Whether all the strains that were used in this study are needed is not known, and whether other probiotics will help better is not known. Other approaches such as altering the carbohydrates delivered to the gut need to be studied. Sartor also reviewed proposed mechanisms – suppression of resident bacteria, stimulation of gut mucus, prevention of adherence of bad germs, and induction of gut immunity ( including affecting the type of immune response generated ). 

While the editorial was interesting, it did not give blanket support to the use of probiotics. It called for a carefull set of studies so we can understand what probiotics can and cannot do, and emphasized the fact that not all bacterial products are the same. 

If I had pouchitis that had previously responded to treatment I would consider the probiotic if I was one of those few patients with multiple relapses of pouchitis. However, I would expect to need to get the product from overseas and I would then need to take it twice a day forever. This in comparison to taking a course of antibiotics for 10 days three times a year. 

The interesting question is what to do if you are one of the patients that never responded to treatment. Potentially you immune response is different or your flora is different. Whether you would respond to VSL#3 is not known. It would be worth trying, but I would recommend a trial were done under medical supervision in case being such a special patient put you at risk for a flare or other complication when taking that mixture.

The study looked at 40 patients with pouchitis all of whom were in remission on drugs. The drugs were then stopped and the 40 patients were then either treated with placebo (maize starch) or a bacterial product called VSL#3 taken twice a day continuously. The trial followed these patients for up to 9 months. In the placebo treated group patients started having relapses after a month, and then all 20 patients eventually relapsed over the next three months, about 2 relapsing each week. In the VSL#3 arm of the study 3 of the 40 patients had relapse over 9 months. Bacteriological evaluation showed that the germs in the stool changed over time with more bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, and strep. salivarius present. The did not subspeciate the bifidobacteria or lactobacilli, however. 

It is possible for a physician to have feelings of loss when a patient improves

It is possible for a physician to have feelings of loss when patients improve.

The following is a post that was in the IBDList. Tom, the list moderator, added the comment at the end set off by brackets. The IBDList is a very valuable Maillist server for people interested in Crohn’s and colitis. If you like the sort of stuff you see here you would like to get the IBDList.

[Unfortunately, the IBDList stopped publishing a number of years ago – Ed.]

I had an interesting emotional response recently with a patient who was put into remission by surgery. This woman had her first attack of Crohn’sabout a year ago. She did well with steroids, almost came off prednisone after a slow taper, then went back on with a flare. On attempting to retaper she had another flare that turned into abscess. Surgery was required. The Crohn’s diseased tissue was very thickened, and perhaps it would neverhave healed with medical treatment.

I had seen her about once ever month or every other month during this time and I got to know her well. When she came in for the post op checkup she was off all her medications and doing very well, eating anything she wanted, all the visible steroid effects gone. While I should have been happy that she would not have to see me anymore, I found myself somewhat sad. It was feeling the feeling of loss.

Clearly what was happening was that the patient and I had been having success at dealing with the Crohn’s, and much of the satisfaction for me was the continued followup and advice that kept her going and the improvement she had following my advice. Knowing that I would not have to do that any longer was, I think, the basis for this. I think another aspect was that she came to surgery without my having given the advice. Having a patient go sour is disconcerting to the physician (certainly more so to the patient), but there is something of a feeling of “how dare that Crohn’s disease get worse just as I was dealing with it.” Part of GI training is to have the knowledge that surgery is not an evil to be avoided, but rather a tool to be used as needed.

I recall a post Tom put up on the IBDList a while back about havinga feeling of loss when in remission from IBD. The loss was in not doing the dietary restrictions and other things that had become routine, or familiar,to daily life.

Oh, the reason I put this up is that this is a list about IBD, living with it, and treatment of it. While I don’t think there is anything in this post that will affect what anybody does, it is the case that IBD affects many people besides the patient, and the physician is one of them.

Stephen Holland, M.D.

[ Thanks for an interesting perspective. I know that when a GI I had been seeing for a number of years retired, I missed him as a person as much as missing the physician. I never considered that he also might have feelings of the loss of day-to-day contact with his set of patients.

Diabetics these days often have a team of professionals helping themwith their disease since it affects so many areas of physical, emotional and spiritual life. In a way it is too bad that the medical community often doesn’t take a more all-encompasing approach to diseases such as IBD that are influenced by more than just the steriods or sulfa drugs. Maybe one day the insurance companies will realize that a combination of treatments, along with a healthy look at eastern or alternative medications and procedures can actually be cheaper than the most common methods of symptom-treatment or emergency-care medicine. -tom]

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Update: 7/1/2019

I wrote this years ago. Now, about 20 years later, this feeling of loss doesn’t happen. But now patients are on immunosuppression, surgical procedures are followed by continued follow up for regular follow up. We realize there are so many things we do and look out for in our IBD patients that we don’t have patients that don’t need to see us after surgery. We continue to see our patients to keep recurrence rates low. It’s a different time now, with continued improvements in the outcomes of our patients with IBD

– SPH