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What Is 5-ASA?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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5-ASA is a pharmacologically active compound derived from salicylic acid that can be useful in the treatment of ulcerative colitis. Patients with this inflammatory disease of the bowel can experience severe pain and irritation as a result of chronic inflammation and the development of lesions in the bowel. Medications in the 5-ASA class can help manage symptoms and make the patient more comfortable. While it is not possible to cure the condition, medications may put a patient in remission and prevent further medical complications.

Some examples of drugs in this class are mesalamine, olsalazine, and sulfasalazine. One advantage of 5-ASA is that it acts locally in the gut, without traveling to other systems in the body. This limits side effects and can make the medication safe for longterm use. Patients may take it orally or rectally in a variety of forms, including tablets, capsules, granules, and liquids. A doctor can discuss the dosage and delivery options with a patient to determine the best option.

This medication works by blocking the production of certain inflammatory compounds in the gut. Without the presence of these compounds, inflammatory reactions are less severe. Over time, taking the medication can allow lesions in the bowel to heal and make the patient feel more comfortable. 5-ASA also has antioxidant qualities and can act as a protecting agent by limiting free radicals in the intestinal tract.

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Patients on this medication may notice changes in their stool, such as increased diarrhea or constipation, and can also experience cramps, constipation, and nausea. More rarely, headaches and even more severe inflammation can occur. Patients are also at risk of liver and kidney damage from 5-ASA, and a doctor may request blood tests before starting therapy to collect baseline levels on liver and kidney function. This will make it easier to tell if the patient is reacting badly to the medication.

It is important to take 5-ASA medications consistently to make them most effective. If patients start to experience severe side effects, they can discuss them with a doctor to explore alternative medications or adjustments to the dosage. Other medications are available to treat ulcerative colitis if a patient doesn't respond to 5-ASA or reacts badly to it. It is advisable to keep this medication out of reach of children and pets, and to make sure it is in a secure container, as it can make young children and animals very sick.

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