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Sulfasalazine is a medication that is used primarily as a treatment for colitis. It is generally only available as a prescription drug. It is a blend of sulfa, a type of antibiotic, and salicylate, a pain-relieving substance. Other uses for the drug include treatment of Crohn’s disease, arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It was developed in the 1950s as a treatment for arthritis, but many other uses have since been discovered.
In treating arthritis, sulfasalazine generally works by killing bacteria and reducing inflammation in the soft tissue surrounding joints. IBS is sometimes caused by harmful bacteria in the intestinal tract and colon, and sulfasalazine attacks these bacteria, helping to reduce or relieve the symptoms. The salicylate in the drug helps to eliminate the inflammation which is also generally present in IBS.
Crohn’s disease is a condition that can lead to severe pain in the stomach, diarrhea, and weight loss. There is no cure, and the cause of the disease has not yet been determined. It is considered a debilitating condition because once it develops, it is typically a lifelong problem. Changes in diet or daily habits do not seem to have an effect, so medical treatment, often in the form of sulfasalazine, may be prescribed.
Scientific studies have seemed to indicate that sulfasalazine might help reduce the instances of pneumonia in patients with immune system disorders. Pneumonia has long been life-threatening for those suffering from these immune system conditions. The discovery of sulfasalazine as a possible treatment is considered a major breakthrough.
Fungus in the lungs of cancer and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) patients is the primary cause of pneumonia. This type of pneumonia is called pneumocystis. With pneumocystis, fungus stays in the lungs and causes inflammation that is often severe and leads to respiratory infection. Sulfasalazine seems to work by literally eating up the fungus and its leftover detrius. This is something the body is unable to accomplish on its own, especially in those whose immune systems are already weak.
Patients who suffer from pneumocystis may continue to be ill long after the initial fungus has been destroyed. Their lungs may be still be full of leftover debris, so inflammation may persist. The body, sensing this problem, continues to try to fight an infection that actually does not exist. This syndrome continues to weaken the immune system, prolonging the illness. Sulfasalazine may have a positive impact on this syndrome by eliminating the debris.