Can Accutane Cause GI Problems?


Dr. Jo Herzog, M.D.

Today, Dr. Jo Herzog will answer the following question submitted by a Family Savvy reader.

Hello Dr. Herzog,

My nephew is experiencing problems in his GI tract. He took accutane several years ago, and I am wondering if the GI issues might be a long-term side effect. I have heard that there can be a connection. Can you shed any light on this?

Thank you so much!

Claudia in Birmingham

Dr. Jo Herzog, M.D.

Dear Claudia,

The development of IBD while on accutane is a controversial subject that has been addressed many times over the past few years with no accurate conclusions drawn, as far as I am aware. However, this has become a well publicized legal issue.

My personal belief is that these GI problems often occur during the same time in life that teenagers have acne. This is an association, but this does not prove cause and effect. There are also reports of teenagers with acne presenting with IBD while on certain antibiotics, but this has not been picked up on in the same way by the media. There have also been reports of associated depression while on this medication.

Accutane is a life changing drug for teenagers with scarring acne. To deprive a young person of this drug because of these “associations” is probably not what I would choose to do were I the deciding parent. This drug changes the lives of many self-conscious, insecure young people. Pregnancy is still the major issue of concern here as are several other usually tolerable side effects.

I discuss the side effects that I expect (dry skin, nose bleeds, dry eyes, muscle aches etc.) with patients and parents before they start.  We also discuss the association that might be real and might not be real with IBD and depression.  Very few patients choose not to take accutane because of this, and I feel that if given all of this information before your nephew started this, his parents would have still chosen to move forward with this treatment. I would if it were my child.

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  1. When it works it can have amazing results at reducing acne. But as with all drugs there are potential side effects so do the Accutane drug’s benefits outweigh the side effects and dangers.

  2. It is a powerful medicine that is prescribed usually for severest acne. However it has some restrictions in the U.S. due to its negative and potentially dangerous side effects.

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