Erythromycin for the treatment of chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction: description of six cases with a positive response

Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2004 Mar 15;19(6):687-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2004.01900.x.


Background: Chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction, due to intestinal myopathy or neuropathy, is characterized by the signs and symptoms of intestinal obstruction in the absence of true obstruction. Episodes are resistant to medical therapy.

Aim: To determine the value of erythromycin treatment in chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction.

Methods: All patients with proven chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction treated with erythromycin were reviewed. Patients with symptomatic benefit are described in detail. Responders were compared with non-responders to identify the factors associated with benefit.

Results: Fifteen consecutive patients (nine females; median age, 37 years; median follow-up, 41 months) were treated with oral erythromycin, 1.5-2.0 g/day. Six patients (three primary visceral myopathy, two normal histology on light microscopy, one visceral myopathy secondary to scleroderma) responded, with decreased pain and vomiting, normalized bowel dysfunction and decreased episodes of ileus. Five of the six patients (83%) who responded to erythromycin were male, compared with two of the nine non-responders (22%) (P = 0.04). Four of the six responders (67%) had histological or immunohistological visceral myopathy, compared with three of the nine patients (33%) who failed to respond. Responders were less likely than non-responders to be taking long-term opiates.

Conclusions: Erythromycin is effective for acute episodes of ileus and chronic symptoms in some patients with chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Erythromycin / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / complications*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Gastrointestinal Agents
  • Erythromycin