BACKGROUND: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) markedly increases tissue oxygen delivery. Case series suggest it may have a potential therapeutic benefit in ulcerative colitis (UC). We investigated the therapeutic potential of HBOT as an adjunct to steroids for UC flares requiring hospitalization. METHODS: The study was terminated early due to poor recruitment with 18 of the planned 70 patients enrolled. UC patients hospitalized for moderate–severe flares (Mayo score ≥6, endoscopic sub-score ≥2) were block randomized to steroids + daily HBOT (n = 10) or steroids + daily sham hyperbaric air (n = 8). Patients were blinded to study assignment, and assessments were performed by a blinded gastroenterologist. Primary outcome was the clinical remission rate at study day 5 (partial Mayo score ≤2 with no sub-score >1). Key secondary outcomes were: clinical response (reduction in partial Mayo score ≥2, rectal bleeding sub-score of 0–1) and progression to second-line therapy (colectomy or biologic therapy) during the hospitalization. RESULTS: A significantly higher proportion of HBOT-treated patients achieved clinical remission at study day 5 and 10 (50 vs. 0%, p = 0.04). HBOT-treated patients less often required progression to second-line therapy during the hospitalization (10 vs. 63%, p = 0.04). The proportion requiring in-hospital colectomy specifically as second-line therapy for medically refractory UC was lower in the HBOT group compared to sham (0 vs. 38%, p = 0.07). There were no serious adverse events. CONCLUSION: In this small, proof-of-concept, phase 2A trial, the use of HBOT as an adjunctive therapy to steroids for UC patients hospitalized for moderate–severe flares resulted in higher rates of clinical remission, and a reduction in rates of progression to second-line therapy during the hospitalization. Larger well-powered trials are needed, however, to provided definitive evidence of therapeutic benefit.
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