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Prokinetic effect of erythromycin after colorectal surgery

Randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study

  • Original Contributions
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Diseases of the Colon & Rectum


PURPOSE: Nausea and vomiting three to seven days after an elective operation on the colon and rectum remain a persistent clinical problem. Erythromycin, a safe, inexpensive drug that stimulates intestinal motilin receptors, has previously been shown to accelerate gastric emptying significantly after upper gastrointestinal surgery. We aimed to evaluate the effect of postoperative intravenous erythromycin on postoperative ileus in patients undergoing elective surgery for primary colorectal cancer. METHODS: Between May 1998 and April 1999, 150 patients undergoing primary resection of colon or rectal cancer were enrolled in this prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. One hundred thirty-four patients completed the study. Patients were excluded if they had extensive metastatic disease, were taking medications known to interact with erythromycin, or if they required an ileostomy. Patients received either 200 mg of intravenous erythromycin or placebo every six hours. Clinical endpoints were recorded and continuous endpoints are presented as mean ± standard deviation. RESULTS: There were no significant complications related to erythromycin. The erythromycin (n=65) and placebo (n=69) groups were comparable regarding demographic and operative factors. The erythromycin group had a slightly shorter length of time to passage of flatus (4.1 ± 1.3vs. 4.4 ± 1.1 days;P=0.03). There was no significant difference between erythromycin and placebo in time to first solid food (5.6 ± 1.9vs. 5.4 ± 1.8 days), time to first bowel movement (5.2 ± 1.9vs. 5.4 ± 1.3 days), or time to discharge from hospital (7.5 ± 2.0vs. 7.6 ± 2.8 days). There was no difference in the rate of clinically significant nausea (26vs. 26 percent;P=0.99), vomiting (17vs. 16 percent;P=0.88), or nasogastric tube placement (9vs. 7 percent;P=0.68). CONCLUSIONS: Erythromycin does not seem to alter clinically important outcomes related to postoperative ileus in patients undergoing resection for colorectal cancer.

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Smith, A.J., Nissan, A., Lanouette, N.M. et al. Prokinetic effect of erythromycin after colorectal surgery. Dis Colon Rectum 43, 333–337 (2000).

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