Only two (2.5%) of 80 outpatients with histologically proven ulcerative colitis had folate deficiency associated with anaemia or macrocytosis. Mean folate absorption, measured using micrograms/kg body weight of a tritium-labelled physiological folate derivative, 5-methyltetrahydroteroylglutamic acid, in six newly diagnosed patients was 76.7% (normal greater than 95%) but fell to 69.4% after three months' treatment with sulphasalazine. Mean difference in individual patients was 7.5% +/- 5.2% (SD) (p less than 0.02). Mean folate absorption in four patients with megaloblastic anaemia or macrocytosis which developed during treatment with sulphasalazine was 66.3%. This rose to 82.4% after the drug was stopped. Mean difference in individual patients was 16.6 +/- 6.6% (SD) (p less than 0.001). All patients who developed anaemia or macrocytosis with sulphasalazine had additional reasons for folate deficiency. These included coeliac disease, severe nutritional deficiencies, and haemolysis. It was concluded that sulphasalazine impairs folate absorption but this only becomes significant if other reasons for folate deficiency are also present.
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