A new technique for treating Crohn's disease could avoid exposing patients to the effects of potentially dangerous steroid drugs, it has been claimed.
The new treatment relies on combined immunosuppression (CI) therapy.
Crohn's, which is a chronic bowel disorder, is an autoimmune disease in which the body deploys defences against itself.
The normal "step-up" strategy for managing the condition sees steroids administered initially to control the symptoms of stomach pains and bloody diarrhoea. Then patients are given immune system-suppressing drugs, followed by an antibody that curbs the inflammatory response at the root of the disease.
Although the approach is often effective, many patients become resistant to or dependent on the drugs used.
People who use steroids over an extended period of time may develop Cushing's syndrome, a condition marked by rapid weight gain, muscle weakness and skin problems which may lead to high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. In some cases, it can shorten life.
The new alternative "top-down" therapy addresses the causes of the disease from the start and employs early use of immunesuppressing drugs and an antibody.
A new study published in The Lancet medical journal found that with the "top-down" CI treatment, symptom-treating steroids may never be necessary.
Lead author Dr Geert D'Haens, from the Imelda Hospital in Bonheiden, Belgium, said: "This study is a milestone in the management of Crohn's disease."