Tolerability and safety of mercaptopurine in azathioprine-intolerant patients with inflammatory bowel disease

C. W. Lees, A. K. Maan, B. Hansoti, J. Satsangi, I. D.R. Arnott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Background: Azathioprine intolerance is a common clinical problem, requiring drug withdrawal in up to 30% of patients. The successful use of mercaptopurine is described, but data to support this strategy are needed. Aims: To assess the tolerability of mercaptopurine in inflammatory bowel disease patients previously intolerant of azathioprine, and identify predictive factors. Methods: Sixty-one azathioprine-intolerant patients (31 males, median age at diagnosis 32 years, 31 with Crohn's disease, 30 with ulcerative colitis) who had been treated with mercaptopurine were identified. Intolerances included nausea and vomiting, flu-like illness, neutropenia, hepatotoxicity and pancreatitis. Results: Mercaptopurine was tolerated by 59% (36 of 61) of azathioprine- intolerant patients (median dose 1.0 mg/kg), 61% (17 of 28) in patients with azathioprine-related nausea and vomiting, 61% (11 of 18) with flu-like illness, 33% (three of nine) with hepatotoxicity, 100% (one of one) with neutropenia, 100% (three of three) with rash and 0% (zero of one) with pancreatitis. Mercaptopurine intolerance was frequently for a different adverse event. Those intolerant of mercaptopurine were younger (28.4 years vs. 37.0 years; P = 0.014) and more frequently female (14/30 vs. 2/29, P = 0.027). Mercaptopurine tolerability was not affected by diagnosis, location, behaviour, surgery, smoking, family history or extra-intestinal manifestations. Conclusion: Mercaptopurine may be tolerated in up to 60% of azathioprine-intolerant patients, and treatment should be considered, particularly if intolerance was due to nausea, vomiting, flu-like illness or rash.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)220-227
Number of pages8
JournalAlimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'Tolerability and safety of mercaptopurine in azathioprine-intolerant patients with inflammatory bowel disease'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this