BACKGROUND Thiopurines are known to cause lymphopenia (<1,500 lymphocytes/μl). As severe lymphopenia (<500C/μl) is associated with opportunistic infections, we investigated severity of thiopurine-related lymphopenia and development of opportunistic infections in our tertiary referral centre.
METHODS We retrospectively screened medical records of 1,070 IBD patients and identified 100 individuals that developed a total of 161 episodes of lymphopenia during thiopurine treatment between 2002 and 2014. Occurrence of opportunistic infections was documented. A control group consisted of IBD patients receiving thiopurines but without developing lymphopenia.
RESULTS Of a total of 161 episodes of lymphopenia, 23% were severe (<500C/μl). In this subgroup, thiopurine dosing was modified in 64% (dosage reduction: 32%, medication discontinued: 32%). We identified 9 cases (5.5%) of opportunistic infections, of which only two occurred during severe lymphopenia. One opportunistic infection (4.5%) was identified in the control group. No association was found between opportunistic infections and severity of lymphopenia. All patients who suffered from opportunistic infections were receiving additional immunosuppressive medication.
CONCLUSION Our patients treated with thiopurines rarely developed severe lymphopenia and opportunistic infections did not occur more often than in the control group. A careful monitoring of lymphocytes and prophylactic adjustment of thiopurine therapy might contribute to this low incidence.