Background: Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is characterized by periods of relapse and remission. Treatment is aimed at reducing symptoms during relapse and prolonging the duration of remissions. 6-Mercaptopurine (6-MP) and its prodrug azathioprine (AZA) are commonly used to prolong clinical remissions. The erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP) are two widely used laboratory markers of inflammation. The authors observed an unexplained discordance between ESR and CRP in children with asymptomatic IBD who were being treated with AZA or 6-MP.
Objective: To characterize children with IBD in remission treated with 6-MP or AZA who have persistently elevated ESR but normal CRP.
Methods: All patients seen in Pediatric Gastroenterology Clinic between January 1, 1995, and December 31, 2002, with Crohn disease or ulcerative colitis who received AZA or 6-MP continuously for at least 6 months were identified and their medical records reviewed.
Results: One hundred twenty patients met the eligibility criteria. Twelve had an ESR >18 mm/hour on at least three occasions during at least 12 consecutive months with a simultaneous CRP <0.8 mg/dL. Eleven of these 12 had no signs or symptoms of active disease and had Pediatric Crohn Disease Activity Index scores <10 for at least 12 consecutive months while the ESR was elevated. Disease duration was similar in the 11 children with asymptomatic disease and with discordant ESR and CRP and in 108 children with concordant ESR and CRP (69.2 + 22.5 months v 54.3 ± 40.1 months, P = 0.0709). Duration of AZA or 6-MP therapy was greater in the 11 children with asymptomatic disease and discordant ESR and CRP than in those with or without symptoms and with concordant ESR and CRP (58.1 ± 16.4 months v 36.6 ± 24.1 months, P = 0.0043). There were no differences between the groups with respect to diagnosis, location of disease, or age at onset of symptoms. The mean corpuscular volume (MCV) was somewhat larger in the children with discordant ESR and CRP than in the children with concordant ESR and CRP (91.4 ± 6.97 fL v 87.0 ± 7.07 fL, respectively, P = 0.0373); however, in both groups, the MCV was in the normal range. There were no significant differences in hematocrit, white blood cell count, serum albumin, total serum protein, or estimated serum globulin between the groups.
Conclusions: The results suggest that among children treated with AZA or 6-MP, CRP may be a more reliable indirect indicator of inflammation than ESR. This report alerts clinicians that some children taking AZA or 6-MP may have persistent elevation of the ESR with a normal CRP and have no clinical evidence of active disease.