Medically reviewed by Jenny Blair, MD
If you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), your doctor may prescribe a medication called an aminosalicylate, or 5-ASA. Types of 5-ASAs include sulfasalazine, mesalamine, olsalazine, and balsalazide; and they can be administered orally or rectally.
While these medications are often prescribed for more mild or moderate cases of IBD, especially for ulcerative colitis, it’s still important to take them exactly as indicated—even when you’re feeling well—in order to obtain the best possible treatment outcomes. Here’s why:
1. 5-ASAs can help keep IBD symptoms at bay.
If prescribed by your doctor, taking 5-ASAs—and sticking with them—can help control IBD symptoms like abdominal pain and diarrhea. Just be patient—once you start rectal 5-ASA treatment, it may take about 3 weeks or so to start to notice improvements.
2. They can help control inflammation.
IBD is by definition an inflammatory condition, but treatment with 5-ASAs can help reduce inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract—an essential step in the path toward remission.
3. 5-ASAs can help you achieve—and maintain—remission.
While they can be used to treat both ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s, if you’re prescribed 5-ASAs for ulcerative colitis, they can help you achieve and maintain remission. If you stop taking your medication, you may be at risk for an IBD flare, though.
4. They may reduce your cancer risk.
IBD has been associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. A study published in January 2017 in the journal Oncotarget notes that taking 5-ASAs may actually help reduce the risk of colon cancer.
5. They can provide targeted exposure.
Rectal 5-ASAs that are prescribed for ulcerative colitis target the medication exactly where it’s needed in the rectum. By comparison, oral drugs expose your entire body to the medication. However, depending on the situation, a combination of both rectal and oral 5-ASAs may offer the most benefit.
6. 5-ASAs can eliminate the need for harmful steroids.
While steroids can be effective in treating active IBD, they’re not meant for long-term use. So your doctor may prescribe 5-ASAs to help you manage IBD over time without relying on steroid treatment outside of a flare.
Stick with Your Treatment
Keep in mind, you need to continue taking 5-ASAs as well as any other IBD medication you’ve been prescribed in order to reap these benefits. If you have questions about your treatment, including whether or not you should adjustment your current medications, talk to your doctor.
Jenny Blair is a writer and journalist covering science, medicine, and the humanities. She earned her MD at Yale University, then completed a residency in emergency medicine at the University of Chicago. After several years in practice, she transitioned to working with words and ideas full-time. Jenny has contributed to Discover, New Scientist, Washington Spectator, and Medtech Insight, among other publications. She lives in New York City.
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