Only after critical appraisal should sulfasalazine tablets be given to patients with hepatic or renal damage or blood dyscrasias. Deaths associated with the administration of sulfasalazine have been reported from hypersensitivity reactions, agranulocytosis, aplastic anemia, other blood dyscrasias, renal and liver damage, irreversible neuromuscular and central nervous system changes, and fibrosing alveolitis. The presence of clinical signs such as sore throat, fever, pallor, purpura, or jaundice may be indications of serious blood disorders. Complete blood counts, as well as urinalysis with careful microscopic examination, should be done frequently in patients receiving sulfasalazine (see PRECAUTIONS, Laboratory Tests). Oligospermia and infertility have been observed in men treated with sulfasalazine; however, withdrawal of the drug appears to reverse these effects.
Sulfasalazine tablets should be given with caution to patients with severe allergy or bronchial asthma. Adequate fluid intake must be maintained in order to prevent crystalluria and stone formation. Patients with glucose-6 phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency should be observed closely for signs of hemolytic anemia. This reaction is frequently dose related. If toxic or hypersensitivity reactions occur, the drug should be discontinued immediately.
Information for Patients
Patients should be informed of the possibility of adverse effects and of the need for careful medical supervision. The occurrence of sore throat, fever, pallor, purpura, or jaundice may indicate a serious blood disorder. Should any of these occur, the patient should seek medical advice. They should also be made aware that ulcerative colitis rarely remits completely, and that the risk of relapse can be substantially reduced by continued administration of sulfasalazine at a maintenance dosage. Patients should be instructed to take sulfasalazine in evenly divided doses, preferably after meals. Additionally, patients should be advised that sulfasalazine may produce an orange-yellow discoloration of the urine or skin.
Complete blood counts, including differential white cell count and liver function tests, should be performed before starting sulfasalazine and every second week during the first three months of therapy. During the second three months, the same tests should be done once monthly and thereafter once every three months, and as clinically indicated. Urinalysis and an assessment of renal function should also be done periodically during treatment with sulfasalazine.
The determination of serum sulfapyridine levels may be useful since concentrations greater than 50 mcg/mL appear to be associated with an increased incidence of adverse reactions.
Reduced absorption of folic acid and digoxin have been reported when those agents were administered concomitantly with sulfasalazine.
Drug/Laboratory Test Interactions
The presence of sulfasalazine or its metabolites in body fluids has not been reported to interfere with laboratory test procedures.
Carcinogenesis, Mutagenesis, Impairment of Fertility
Two-year oral carcinogenicity studies were conducted in male and female F344/N rats and B6C3F1 mice. Sulfasalazine was tested at 84 (496 mg/m²), 168 (991 mg/m²), and 337.5 (1991 mg/m²) mg/kg/day doses in rats. A statistically significant increase in the incidence of urinary bladder transitional cell papillomas was observed in male rats. In female rats, two (4%) of the 337.5 mg/kg rats had transitional cell papilloma of the kidney. The increased incidence of neoplasms in the urinary bladder and kidney of rats was also associated with an increase in the renal calculi formation and hyperplasia of transitional cell epithelium. For the mouse study, sulfasalazine was tested at 675 (2025 mg/m²), 1350 (4050 mg/m²), and 2700 (8100 mg/m²) mg/kg/day. The incidence of hepatocellular adenoma or carcinoma in male and female mice was significantly greater than the control at all doses tested.
Sulfasalazine did not show mutagenicity in the bacterial reverse mutation assay (Ames test) and in L51784 mouse lymphoma cell assay at the HGPRT gene. However, sulfasalazine showed equivocal mutagenic response in the micronucleus assay of mouse and rat bone marrow and mouse peripheral RBC and in the sister chromatid exchange, chromosomal aberration, and micronucleus assays in lymphocytes obtained from humans.
Impairment of male fertility was observed in reproductive studies performed in rats at a dose of 800 mg/kg/day (4800 mg/m²). Oligospermia and infertility have been described in men treated with sulfasalazine. Withdrawal of the drug appears to reverse these effects.
Pregnancy Category B. Reproduction studies have been performed in rats and rabbits at doses up to 6 times the human dose and have revealed no evidence of impaired female fertility or harm to the fetus due to sulfasalazine. There are, however, no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women. Because animal reproduction studies are not always predictive of human response, this drug should be used during pregnancy only if clearly needed. A national survey evaluated the outcome of pregnancies associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In a group of 186 women treated with sulfasalazine alone or sulfasalazine and concomitant steroid therapy, the incidence of fetal morbidity and mortality was comparable to that for 245 untreated IBD pregnancies, as well as to pregnancies in the general population.¹ A study of 1,455 pregnancies associated with exposure to sulfonamides indicated that this group of drugs, including sulfasalazine, did not appear to be associated with fetal malformation.² A review of the medical literature covering 1,155 pregnancies in women with ulcerative colitis suggested that the outcome was similar to that expected in the general population.³
No clinical studies have been performed to evaluate the effect of sulfasalazine on the growth development and functional maturation of children whose mothers received the drug during pregnancy.
Sulfasalazine and sulfapyridine pass the placental barrier. Although sulfapyridine has been shown to have a poor bilirubin-displacing capacity, the potential for kernicterus in newborns should be kept in mind.
A case of agranulocytosis has been reported in an infant whose mother was taking both sulfasalazine and prednisone throughout pregnancy.
Caution should be exercised when sulfasalazine is administered to a nursing woman. Sulfonamides are excreted in the milk. In the newborn, they compete with bilirubin for binding sites on the plasma proteins and may thus cause kernicterus. Insignificant amounts of uncleaved sulfasalazine have been found in milk, whereas the sulfapyridine levels in milk are about 30% to 60% of those in the maternal serum. Sulfapyridine has been shown to have a poor bilirubin-displacing capacity.
Safety and effectiveness in pediatric patients below the age of two years have not been established.