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Accutane and Crohn’s Disease

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Accutane, a drug that treats severe acne, is linked to a serious bowel disease called Crohn's disease. Crohn's has no cure and affects the intestinal track and may cause scarring and bowel obstruction.

Accutane was introduced in 1982 and has been used by more than 16 million people worldwide. After generic forms of the drug were introduced — and after lawsuits began to accumulate — the manufacturer of Accutane, Roche, stopped making it in 2009. Generic forms are still available.

Unfortunately, Accutane has long been linked with several severe side effects, including birth defects and suicide. Other serious side effects include bowel diseases, including Crohn’s.

Links between Accutane, Crohn’s Disease

Adverse drug reaction reports that Roche received through its call center were periodically evaluated in internal company documents. One of these, called the Internal Causality Assessment, issued on Jan. 6, 1994, noted that 104 cases of colitis syndromes, including Crohn’s disease, were experienced by Accutane users. Of those cases, 33 probably were linked to Accutane.

Researchers analyzed all adverse drug reaction reports submitted to the Food and Drug Administration between 1997 and 2002 and found 85 cases of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, including cases of Crohn’s disease, associated with isotretinoin (Accutane) use. Of those 85 cases, researchers found that, Isotretinoin use was highly probable as the cause in four cases, probably the cause in 58 cases, and possibly the cause in 23 cases.

Dr. R. Balfour Sartor, professor of medicine, immunology and microbiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and chief medical adviser to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, says that more research into the link between Accutane and Crohn’s disease is needed. He also added that Accutane is generally prescribed to patients ranging in age from mid-teens to mid-30s — a population that is more prone to developing Crohn’s disease in the first place.

Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is a type of bowel disease that can affect all or part of the intestinal track. The disease has no cure, but it can be managed. It can cause scarring and obstruction within the bowel.

Crohn’s disease can affect the small intestine, the large intestine, or both:

  • 30 percent of cases involve only the small intestine.
  • 30 percent of cases involve only the large intestine.
  • 40 percent of cases involve both intestines.
The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are:
Low-grade fever Weight loss
Fatigue Prolonged diarrhea
Abdominal pain

Crohn’s patients may also experience symptoms that are signs that the bowel is becoming narrowed because of an obstruction, such as:

  • Bloating after eating
  • Cramps
  • Loud rumbling or gurgling noises coming from the stomach

Once the bowel has narrowed permanently, the patient may first experience some constipation, and eventually the constipation will become persistent. This can be caused by undigested foods becoming impacted in the bowel.

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