Objective: Alosetron hydrochloride (Lotronex), a potent selective 5-hydroxytryptamine(3) receptor antagonist, was approved in February, 2000 in the United States for the treatment of diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in women. Marketing was suspended in November, 2000, after reports of colonic ischemia and serious complications of constipation. We sought to compare the incidence of colonic ischemia, hospitalized complications of constipation, and bowel surgery among alosetron users and a cohort of patients with IBS who did not use alosetron.
Methods: We sought outcomes of colonic ischemia, hospitalized complications of constipation, and bowel surgery in 3,631 Lotronex users and 2,480 comparison IBS subjects using diagnoses, procedures, and drugs recorded in the UnitedHealthcare insurance claims database, and validated these by chart review. The initial assessment was to last for 3 yr beginning with the start of alosetron treatment and was to include 10,000 Lotronex users; however, the observation period ended by December 31, 2000, after suspension of marketing.
Results: There were 3631 alosetron users among members of UnitedHealthcare from March through December, 2000, and we identified 2480 comparison IBS-only patients; follow-up time averaged about 5 months in both groups. There were no instances of colonic ischemia in either cohort. Thirty instances of bowel surgery occurred, giving rates of 10.2/1000 person-yr in the alosetron cohort and 11.8/1000 person-yr in the IBS/no alosetron cohort. There were three cases of hospitalized complications of constipation. The incidence rates were essentially the same in alosetron users (1.24/1000 person-yr) and in IBS patients with no alosetron use (0.92/1000 person-yr).
Conclusions: Alosetron users did not differ from IBS patients not using alosetron in the incidence of bowel surgery or hospitalized complications of constipation; there were no cases of colonic ischemia. The statistical upper limit of colonic ischemia rates in alosetron users was 2.28/1000 person-yr. Because of the market withdrawal, the size of the cohort and the duration of follow-up were smaller than originally planned; consequently, the statements about the safety of alosetron were necessarily limited. On June 7, 2002, the Food and Drug Administration approved alosetron for reintroduction in the U.S. market for women with severe diarrhea-related IBS.