Objectives: Scleroderma patients frequently present esophageal and gastric emptying abnormalities and small bowel dysfunction. Erythromycin, a macrolide antibiotic, has been found to accelerate gastric and gallbladder emptying in both healthy subjects and diabetic patients. Our objective was to investigate the effects of 4-wk oral erythromycin administration on the gastric and gallbladder emptying, gastrointestinal symptoms (early satiety, abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, vomiting, and constipation), and motilin plasma levels of patients with scleroderma. Methods: 12 scleroderma patients were investigated before and after 4-wk treatment with 250 mg oral erythromycin three times a day. The effect of a single iv dose of 2 mg/kg/h erythromycin on gastric and gallbladder emptying before starting the oral treatment was also evaluated. Gastric and gallbladder emptying after a solid meal were evaluated by sonography. Results: Single iv administration of erythromycin before the meal reduced gastric emptying T1/2 from 121.3 +/- 14.0 to 45.5 +/- 7.3 min (p < 0.01) and accelerated gallbladder emptying without affecting the peak. Four-week oral administration of erythromycin reduced gastric emptying T1/2 from 121.3 +/- 14.0 min to 46.5 +/- 8.3 min (p < 0.01). Peak gallbladder emptying was also significantly accelerated, while total emptying remained unchanged (p < 0.01). Furthermore, 4-wk erythromycin administration reduced both motilin plasma levels (from 223.4 +/- 53.8 to 145.4 +/- 67.2 pmol/L, p < 0.01) and symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain (p < 0.01), and increased bowel movements in a subset of scleroderma patients with intestinal pseudo-obstruction. Conclusions: Erythromycin stimulates gastrointestinal motility in patients with scleroderma. Administered medium-term, it accelerates gastric and gallbladder emptying and alleviates gastrointestinal symptoms.
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