Avoiding analgesic escalation and excessive healthcare utilization in severe irritable bowel syndrome: a role for intramuscular anticholinergics?

Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2014 Nov;7(6):232-7. doi: 10.1177/1756283X14540028.


Objectives: In patients with severe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), abdominal pain can be the predominant symptom impacting on all aspects of their lives and resulting in excessive healthcare utilization. Furthermore, the use of analgesics can become excessive in this group of patients, sometimes leading to opiate dependency. Typically, the pain is often described as spastic in nature and we have speculated that parenteral anticholinergics might provide effective relief when all other measures have failed. For several years, we have therefore been asking general practitioners to consider teaching such patients to administer intramuscular hyoscine butylbromide for pain episodes and this study is an audit of this approach.

Methods: Patients in whom the use of intramuscular hyoscine butylbromide had been recommended to their general practitioner in the last three years were interviewed over the telephone in order to document the efficacy of this approach as well as any potential disadvantages.

Results: A total of 122 general practitioners were advised to try this approach, with 58 agreeing to teach the technique and prescribe the medication. Of the 58 patients who used the medication, 50 (86%) found it gave them pain relief, which was complete in six (10%), substantial in 36 (62%) and mild in eight (14%), with 15 (26%) decreasing the use of analgesics and 13 (32%) of the 41 taking opiates able to reduce or stop them completely. Side effects were few and largely consisted of those associated with anticholinergics. Only four patients stopped medication because of side effects and no major skin reactions were reported.

Conclusions: The use of intramuscular hyoscine butylbromide shows promise in the management of IBS when severe unmanageable abdominal pain is a major problem. This approach appears to be safe and has the potential to reduce analgesic escalation, opiate dependency and attendances at accident and emergency departments.

Keywords: intramuscular hyoscine butylbromide; irritable bowel syndrome; narcotic bowel syndrome.