As their name suggests, immunosuppressants suppress (reduce the effectiveness of) the immune system (the body’s protection system against harmful substances). They are helpful in IBD because, in doing so they also reduce levels of inflammation.
The main immunosuppressants used in IBD include:
Immunosuppressants are mainly used when treatment with steroids and 5-ASA has failed to control the inflammation, or when steroids cannot be withdrawn without causing a relapse. If someone who is dependent on their steroid treatment in this way starts taking an immunosuppressant as well, they can often gradually reduce or even stop taking the steroids without worsening the inflammation. This is why immunosuppressants are sometimes called ‘steroid-sparing’ drugs.
The various immunosuppressants work slightly differently. Your doctor will talk you through the benefits and possible side effects of the one they are recommending for you. Make sure they know about any previous illnesses and about any new symptoms you notice once you start your treatment.